Unethical Corporate Control of Crop Research

This is the kind of story that could turn someone who is generally accepting of GM crops (like me) into a skeptic — if not a skeptic about the crops themselves, at very least a skeptic about the companies that produce them.

Here’s an important editorial from Scientific American: Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?

(Scientists must ask corporations for permission before publishing independent research on genetically modified crops. That restriction must end)

Advances in agricultural technology—including, but not limited to, the genetic modification of food crops—have made fields more productive than ever. Farmers grow more crops and feed more people using less land. They are able to use fewer pesticides and to reduce the amount of tilling that leads to erosion. And within the next two years, agritech com panies plan to introduce advanced crops that are designed to survive heat waves and droughts, resilient characteristics that will become increasingly important in a world marked by a changing climate.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers.

The Editorial’s key point is hard to argue with:

Although we appreciate the need to protect the intellectual property rights that have spurred the investments into research and development that have led to agritech’s successes, we also believe food safety and environmental protection depend on making plant products available to regular scientific scrutiny. Agricultural technology companies should therefore immediately remove the restriction on research from their end-user agreements. Going forward, the EPA should also require, as a condition of approving the sale of new seeds, that independent researchers have unfettered access to all products currently on the market.

The whole editorial is worth reading, and sharing. Intellectual property is an important set of principles and protections; but the rationale for protection reaches its limits when it frustrates, without clear necessity, the conduct of honest, non-commercial scientific research aimed at the public good.

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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