Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Corporations boost agricultural research funding

(I thank my friend Michael McNabb for pointing out this important article.) 

The gap between federal support for agricultural research at large public universities and private investment continues to grow -- and the divide comes with increased threats to academic freedom and more instances of meddling, a report suggests.

A recent study by Food and Water Watch, a Washington-based environmental group, shows that nearly one-quarter of the money spent on agricultural research at land-grant universities comes from corporations, trade associations and foundations, an all-time high.

The consumer advocacy group's report is rife with what it calls examples of how corporate money corrupts public research mission at land-grant schools, which were created by the Morrill Act of 1862

The examples range from a University of Georgia food safety program that allows industry groups to join an advisory board in exchange for annual $20,000 donations, to an Ohio State University professor whose research on genetically modified sunflowers was blocked by two seed companies after results suggested the biotech sunflowers fostered the growth of weeds.

Such alliances are a far cry from land-grant universities' historic role in promoting public knowledge and freely sharing the fruits of their research, said Patty Lovera, Food and Water Watch's assistant director. The report notes that publicly funded university research led to the domestication of blueberries, early varieties of high-yield hybrid corn and common tools to fight soil erosion.

"There's a real sense in agriculture of what these schools used to be," Lovera said. "There was much more trust in what they put out. This is not the same research system of decades ago, and we're acting like it is."

With the current five-year farm bill set to expire at the end of September, Food and Water Watch wants Congress to boost the federal investment in campus agricultural research, with more resources steered toward sustainable methods, organic farming and reduced use of pesticides. The group also is calling for land-grant universities to more fully disclose gifts by private donors and wants agricultural research journals to adopt more stringent conflict-of-interest rules, similar to the recent crackdown by medical journals.

This situation is critical to understanding the apple licensing situation at the University of Minnesota as well as the brouhaha over Troubled waters...

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