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May 13, 2010

Development of Academic Research Licenses Removes Some Restrictions on Independent Scientists Studying GE Crops

On 13 May 2010, Yale Environment 360 reported on the development of new Academic Research Licenses that will allow independent scientists at public universities greater freedom to study patented, gene modified (GM) seeds.  In general, until recently, independent scientific researchers interested in studying patented GM seeds have been subject to "bag-tag" agreements.  Companies such as Monsanto have cited intellectual property rights as the reason for limited access. 

In February 2009, frustrated by industry restrictions, 24 scientists from public research institutions in 17 corn-producing states told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the GM crop industry "inhibit[ed] public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good and warned that industry influence had made independent analyses of transgenic crops impossible."

In December 2009, the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) met with the crop scientists who complained to the EPA.  Representing the GM crop companies, ASTA agreed to provide greater assistance in studying the "effects of [GM] food crops on soil, pests, and pesticide use, and to compare their yields and analyze their effects on the environment."

Until these negotiations, the status quo had been "Technology/Stewardship Agreements" that specifically restricted any use of the seed for research.  Also known as "bag-tag" agreements, GM seed companies used these agreements to set all terms under which GM seed could used including: where it can be grown, where it can be sold, and the brand of herbicides that can be used.

As part of these negotiations, the GM crop industry companies agree to enter into Academic Research Licenses (ARLs) with public institutions. ARLs will eliminate the need for scientists to apply to do research on a case-by-case basis. This will facilitate research on "agronomic and yield comparisons, comparative efficacy studies, pest biology and resistance management studies, and studies on the interactions of introduced traits with the environment."

As part of these negotiations, the GM crop industry did not agree to remove "bag-tag" restrictions on research "for reasons of competitiveness in the marketplace."  They also did not agree to studies "related to the patent-protected genetics of the plant itself, such as breeding, reverse gene engineering, and modifications to the genetic traits."  And, as Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety notes, ARLs only apply to GM crops that have already been commercialized crops.

The article provides numerous examples of professional frustrations in not being able to have even more access and greater autonomy. 

For more see: Stutz, Bruce. "Companies Put Restrictions On Research into GM Crops," Yale Environment 360, 14 May 2010.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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