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Scientists blocked from independent research on GM crops
As you may
already know, you can’t just go into a store and buy genetically modified
(GM) seeds. You have to sign an agreement with the company that produced them,
and one of the conditions is that you may not save the seeds from your harvest.
Anyone growing GM crops has
to buy seeds from the company every year, which is a problem for all farmers,
but especially for those in the Third World; as Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser’s
epic battle with Monsanto so clearly brings home to us  (Who Owns Life, Not Monsanto?SiS 42).
What is less well known is that the agreements also prohibit you from using
the seeds for research. That may not matter to most farmers, but it is important
because it means that research into GM crops can be done only by the biotech
companies or with their approval. If they don’t want a particular piece of
research carried out, they can refuse permission to use their seeds. Even when
they have given permission, if they don’t like the way the research is turning
out they can stop it, or prevent the results from being published. Consequently,
important decisions on GM crops and all GM organisms (GMOs) are increasingly
based on evidence selected by the companies to put them and their products in
the best possible light.
That’s why when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) invited comments
from the public in advance of two meetings on GM crops it was holding earlier
this year, twenty six scientists submitted a statement protesting the “technology/stewardship
agreements” they have to sign, which inhibit them from doing research for the
public good.  As a result, “no truly independent research can be legally
conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology”. The full statement
is reproduced in the Box.
Scientists’ Statement to US EPA
The following statement has been submitted by 26 leading corn insect
scientists working at public research institutions located in 16 corn producing
states. All of the scientists have been active participants of the Regional
Research Projects NCCC-46 "Development, Optimization, and Delivery
of Management Strategies for Corn Rootworms and Other Below-ground Insect
Pests of Maize" and/or related projects with corn insect pests. The
statement may be applicable to all EPA decisions on PIPs, not just for the
current SAP. It should not be interpreted that the actions and opinions
of these 26 scientists represent those of the entire group of scientists
participating in NCCC-46. The names of the scientists have been withheld
from the public docket because virtually all of us require cooperation from
industry at some level to conduct our research.
"Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase
of genetically modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements
inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of
the public good unless the research is approved by industry. As a result
of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted
on many critical questions regarding the technology, its performance, its
management implications, IRM, and its interactions with insect biology.
Consequently, data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the
public sector is unduly limited."
All the scientists have been active researchers into corn insect pests, and
many of them are in favour of GM crops, but they are very concerned about the
restrictions placed on them by the industry that effectively stop independent
research, and the resulting bias in the evidence being presented to the EPA
and other regulatory agencies. This does not surprise those of us who have been
complaining about the lack of independent research and regulators that routinely
ignore and dismiss all evidence of hazards  (see GM Food Nightmare
Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham, ISIS Scientific Publication).
Anonymous protest for fear of losing their job
Significantly, the submission to the
EPA was made anonymously. Andrew Pollack, the NY Times journalist who
broke the story to the public in February 2009 ,
interviewed many of the scientists and was allowed to reveal some of their
identities, but many of those who felt strongly enough to want the comments
made were not willing to put their careers on the line by letting the biotech
industry know who they were. As Elson Shields, an entomologist from Cornell
explained: “People are afraid of being blacklisted. If your sole job is to
work on corn insects and you need the latest varieties and the companies decide
not to give it to you, you can’t do your job.”
The three companies Pollack contacted, Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer, told
him that the restrictions were necessary to protect their relationship with
government agencies. But when Pollack asked an EPA spokesman about this, he
was told that the government only requires management of the crops’ insect resistance.
Any other conditions were down to the companies; they have nothing to do with
The other excuse was that companies have to protect their intellectual property.
This is no more convincing than the first one, because as the result of intensive
lobbying by the biotech industry, GM crops are protected by patents, rather
than the less restrictive breeders’ rights that apply to other crops. The whole
point of a patent is that the inventor makes the idea public and, in return,
is given an exclusive right to it for a period of time, usually 20 years. To
take out a patent and also insist on keeping an invention secret is to want
to have it both ways, which is no more than what we have come to expect from
an industry that claims genetic engineering is so novel that its products must
be patentable and at the same time so conventional that there is no need to
test GM crops for safety.
Why restrict scientific research?
of research can it be that the companies are anxious to prevent? There seem
to be two kinds they could have in mind. On the one hand, someone might want
to modify an existing GM crop either by conventional breeding or by more genetic
engineering. If they succeeded, however, they would not be able to grow the
crop commercially or market the seeds without negotiating a licence with the
owner of the patent and paying an agreed royalty. But this is precisely how
patenting is supposed to work, and it’s hard to see why the biotech companies
should object to it. In any case, if you hold a patent you are able to licence
someone else to use your innovation but you are not obliged to.
The other possibility is research designed specifically to learn more about
the crop. This includes testing for health and safety or environmental impact,
or to see if it really does what is claimed; for instance, whether an insect-resistant
corn actually reduces the amount of pesticide that has to be applied. It also
includes comparison of the crop with competitors, either GM or conventional,
or with other methods of farming, such as intercropping,
or integrated pest management. The monopoly that the companies
want to maintain and that is not already protected by their patents
is on the information that will be available to regulators and farmers when
they take crucial decisions about GM crops.
It has been shown that published research on pharmaceuticals is far more likely
to give positive results if it was funded by the industry . The same has
been found for research into nutrition . This can happen in many ways,
though the choice and design of the experiments, through the selection of
data, through the decision not to publish the results of experiments that
point in the wrong direction, and so on. That makes it absolutely essential
that there be independent scientists actively carrying out research in those
areas, and all the more so in biotechnology.
The biotech industry already has a very great influence on research. More
and more is being done in the private sector, and much of what is done in
universities depends on funding from industry. Even the research councils
are being told to concentrate their grants on work that will lead to “wealth
creation”, by which is meant the sort of research that industry wants done.
Restricting the use of their seeds gives the biotech companies a veto on
any research they cannot block through their control of funding. They are
aiming for nothing less than an absolute stranglehold on scientific research
and on the flow research information.
Earlier in the same month, a group calling itself “Sense About Science” in
the UK issued a ‘guide’, Making Sense of GM, to help overcome “misconceptions”
that have prevent the public from accepting GM crops and all the benefits
they will bring. What it failed to mention was the
industrial affiliations of some of the scientists involved. Worse yet,
Private Eye revealed that it was sent an earlier draft of the guide,
which listed Andrew Cockburn as one of the authors that was removed in the
published version. Cockburn is none other than Monsanto’s former director
of scientific affairs 
Time to abolish patents on GM crops
That 26 scientists
felt it necessary to write to the EPA shows how worried they are about what
is happening; and how worried the rest of us should be too. If nothing is
done, then when regulatory agencies take decisions about health and the environment,
when farmers want to know what are the best seeds for them to plant and what
is the best way of growing their crops, and when the rest of us want to know
what lies in store for the world’s food supply, the only information we will
have will be what the industry and its friends choose to give us. There will
be no independent research to draw on.
Governments should abolish patents on GM crops and replace them by the same
breeders’ rights that apply to other crops. This
would remove in one stroke the oppressive regime to which farmers have been
subjected; even farmers who have chosen not to grow GM crops are in constant
fear of being accused of patent infringement when their crops become contaminated
with the patented GM variety . Furthermore, there was never a case for
awarding patents to gene sequences  (Why Biotech Patents Are Patently Absurd);
and all the more so in view of recent findings  that have completely invalidated
the concept of gene on which the patents were granted. The patents were based
on a supposed gene function attached to a DNA
sequence. But as genes are now found to exist in bits interweaving with other
genes, so are functions. Multiple DNA sequences may serve the same function,
and conversely the same DNA sequence can have different functions. And there
is no rational basis on which these patents could be defended.
If governments cannot bring themselves to abolish patents on GM crops and
genes, even now that they have seen how the biotech corporations mean to abuse
the privilege of being allowed to patent them, then at the very least they
must insist that the seeds be made available for research.
florence regehr Comment left 11th April 2009 10:10:42 We have a disaster with multi-nationals like Monsanto
Rolland Miller Comment left 10th April 2009 11:11:33 Good Article
Corporate Monopoly of Science is bogus; we should be encouraging as much scrutiny as possible.
GM Food has not had long term studies to prove it is safe.
All GM Food should be subject to extensive ongoing 3rd party studies for safety for humans and animals; to do less is irresponsible, and criminal.
We are not talking about toys here but our food. There should be no shortcuts as regards safety.
André Heyrman Comment left 9th April 2009 18:06:48 there can be NO patent on food wathsoever!!!
food is too precious and can't be genetically owned by no one !!!
James Cooley Comment left 9th April 2009 18:06:59 This is important information that the public needs to see. Unfortunately most people don't even know there is a problem, and many who do simply say, " Let the scientist sort it out." The rub is that most scientific spokesmen are not neutral referees but partisan stakeholders. Keep up the good work.
susan rigali Comment left 10th April 2009 11:11:45 The US government should not allow confidential business information in patents. When epidemics do occur there is no source of information to cause and effect. I have worked in the food service industry for several decades and as a sole proprietor have great concern for my customers safety. I have recently looked into US epidemic in peanut and pistachio contamination. If you have the time to reply I would greatly appreciate an opinion. This patent is primarily used for agriculture, but if you read it you may be quite surprised by this snake oil. If you have no hair it will grow it, if you have undesired hair it will remove it. You can keep a tan and get a facelift all on the properties of this dream patent. And don't forget it will save lives as it inhibits tumor growth. My blog yesterday: EDP enriched dorman preparation-a preparation derived from a natural source which comprises dormans in a larger concentration than that which is found in a natural unprocessed extract. The EDP may be obtained by purification of a natural extract to obtain fractions which contained dormans in the larger concentrations, e.g by various chromatographic techniques, by filtration, etc. as well as by biological means including growing cells or tissue which are capable of producing dormans under conditions in which they produce dormans in relatively large quantities and collecting their secretion products. In order to determine whether a preparation is an EDP, the preparation may be assayed for a specific biological activity associated with dormans. Taken from US patent 7479287, also stated in patent: In view of the natural origin of the dormans, their administration has NO NOTICABLE toxic effect on cells or tissue on which they are induced to act or on the environment. In addition, at times it may be useful to use such compostions for long term storage of seeds and seedlngs. The present invention thus provides a dorman composition having the activity of slowing or inhibiting the growth of plant seeds and/ or seedlings comprising said dorman extract. End. The treatment of peanuts and pistachos fits a timeline for when last years crops would need this type of preparation???????
Reply Favorite Flag as abusive Posted 01:21 PM on 04/07/2009