If I ran an agricultural biotech company and I wanted to go out of my way to alienate my supporters and lend credence to my conspiracy theory-peddling critics, I think that this is exactly how I would go about doing so. From The New York Times:
Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists.
“No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions,” the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The E.P.A. is seeking public comments for scientific meetings it will hold next week on biotech crops.
The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.
So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.
Such agreements have long been a problem, the scientists said, but they are going public now because frustration has been building.
I don’t think that this has as much to do with biotechs trying to hide anything as it does with the great lengths they’ll go through to protect the bottom line. This is a chronic problem facing transgenic crop research and it illustrates once again why university-based research is so important. The fact of the matter is that the biotechs are always going to have their own profits in mind, so they’re always going to maintain incredibly restrictive policies about how their crops are used by researchers and by farmers.
Also, they’ll continue to focus on underwhelming avenues–particularly crops that are resistant to herbicides or produce their own insecticides–that may be profitable but will do little address the much larger problems of global hunger and malnutrition. This has been a running theme in my past coverage of transgenic crops. So, unfortunately, I think that the only long-term solution here is for researchers to ween themselves off of industry-funded and industry-focused research and instead concentrate on the areas where academia can really make an impact.