Last summer, Scientific American ran an editorial criticizing seed companies for inhibiting independent research of GM (biotech) crops. The editorial was prompted by public comments from university scientists to the EPA, who stated they felt the contractual agreements required for purchasing commercial seed prohibited them from conducting their research.
Not long after the article ran, I read many outraged comments on Twitter and received quite a few inquiries. I was surprised by the backlash because it was my understanding that Monsanto allows independent research with products—and not just research that Monsanto believed would end with positive results. Heck, I’ve had to handle communications on studies where Monsanto didn’t agree with the conclusion. So what’s the deal?
In talking with scientists and seed industry counterparts through the American Seed Trade Association, Monsanto realized that there were misperceptions and misunderstandings around what agreements Monsanto had in place to support research. We also discovered disparity between how each seed company in the industry handled research requests.
The bottom line: Monsanto currently supports, and has supported in the past, the freedom to conduct wide-ranging research with its commercial products. That includes research that compares Monsanto products to those of its competitors.
For nearly a decade, Monsanto has had blanket agreements with universities that enable university scientists to work with our products without contacting us or signing a separate contract. Some scientists weren’t or aren’t aware of this. They may have purchased seed, saw the grower agreement prohibiting research, and assumed that was the end of their line. The public comments to the EPA regarding industry practices made us realize that we needed to communicate more broadly, and clearly, how we handle these research requests.
In addition to improving our own processes, Monsanto employees spent time working with ASTA and our contemporaries on a set of principles across the industry that we have all committed to abide by. Monsanto has posted these principles in a web post entitled “Academic Research Agreements” in the “For the Record” section on the Monsanto Web site.