Monsanto blocks research on GMO safety

Re: Monsanto blocks research on GMO safety

Postby admin » Wed Jan 20, 2016 5:22 am

No seeds, no independent research: Companies that genetically engineer crops have a lock on what we know about their safety and benefits.
Doug Gurian-Sherman
February 13, 2011

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Doug Gurian-Sherman is a plant pathologist and senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington

Soybeans, corn, cotton and canola -- most of the acres planted in these crops in the United States are genetically altered. "Transgenic" seeds reduce the use of some insecticides. But herbicide use is higher, and respected experts argue that some genetically engineered crops may also pose serious health and environmental risks. The benefits of genetically engineered crops may be overstated.

We don't have the complete picture. That's no accident. Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically engineered crops. They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they've set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.

This is legal. Under U.S. law, genetically engineered crops are patentable inventions. Companies have broad power over the use of any patented product, including who can study it and how.

Agricultural companies defend their stonewalling by saying that unrestricted research could make them vulnerable to lawsuits if an experiment somehow leads to harm, or that it could give competitors unfair insight into their products. But it's likely that the companies fear something else as well: An experiment could reveal that a genetically engineered product is hazardous or doesn't perform as promised.

Whatever the reasons, the results are clear: Public sector research has been blocked. In 2009, 26 university entomologists -- bug scientists -- wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency protesting restricted access to seeds. "No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions involving these crops," they wrote.

Christian Krupke, a Purdue University entomologist who signed the letter, put it more succinctly to a reporter for a scientific journal. "Industry is completely driving the bus," he said.

Beyond patent law, agricultural companies hold a pocketbook advantage in terms of research. For example, they fund much of the agricultural safety research done in the U.S. And when deciding whether to allow a genetically engineered crop onto the market, the Department of Agriculture and other regulatory agencies do not perform their own experiments on the performance and safety of the product; instead, they rely largely on studies submitted by the companies themselves.

The dangers ought to be clear. In 2001, the seed company Pioneer, owned by Dow Chemical, was developing a strain of genetically engineered corn that contained a toxin to help it resist corn rootworm, an insect pest. A group of university scientists, working at Pioneer's request, found that the corn also appeared to kill a species of beneficial ladybug, which indicated that other helpful insects might also be harmed. But, according to a report in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Dow said its own research showed no ladybug problems, and it prohibited the scientists from making the research public. Nor was it submitted to the EPA. In 2003, the EPA approved a version of the corn, known as Herculex.

Now, we may find out who was right in the field, possibly at the expense of a beneficial bug.

Research restrictions also hamper scientists' ability to assess how genetically engineered crops perform against other modified crops, traditional crops, approaches such as organic farming and the seed companies' promises. There's reason to be suspicious. Using USDA and peer-reviewed data, the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed corn and soybean yields in the U.S. after the new seeds were introduced. We found only marginal increases due to genetically engineered traits -- not a result promoted by the industry.

Monsanto, in its defense, will point to an agreement with the USDA that gives the agency's agricultural scientists access to its genetically engineered seeds for a wide range of research, and the company has also had limited agreements with some universities. Several other seed companies are said to be negotiating voluntary deals with universities in the wake of the entomologists' letter to the EPA, and the American Seed Trade Assn., a trade group, is also developing guidelines to improve access to the new seeds.
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