Corporations boost agricultural research funding
The gap between federal support for agricultural research at large public universities and private investment continues to grow, The Associated Press reported this week.
AP outlined the findings of Food and Water Watch, a Washington-based environmental group, which found that that nearly one-quarter of the money spent on agricultural research at land-grant universities comes from corporations, trade associations and foundations, an all-time high. Financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture accounts for less than 15 percent, the lowest level in nearly two decades.
And that is leading to increased threats to academic freedom and more instances of meddling in the lab, suggests the research report, entitled "Public Research, Private Gain."
AP talked with deans at several agricultural schools singled out for criticism in the report. They maintained that while corporate support is vital, it's unlikely to sway research results or even influence what research gets done:
"We're kind of caught between a rock and a hard place," said Thomas Payne, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri. "In order for research to continue, we have to have support from a variety of sources."
Payne said industry support accounts for just 5 percent of the agricultural research budget at Missouri — though the Food and Water Watch report notes that the percentages were significantly higher in the university's plant sciences department (42 percent from 2007 to 2010) and its College of Veterinary Medicine (63 percent from 2004 to 2010).
Monsanto plays a prominent role on the Missouri campus, where science students attend lectures in Monsanto Auditorium — built in part with a $950,000 grant from the St. Louis company — and professors spin their university research off into private companies at the Monsanto Place "life sciences business incubator," which was built with the help of a $2 million corporate grant.
The company and others in food and agriculture production have given substantial sums to other universities as well. There's a $1 million Monsanto Student Services Wing at Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and a $250,000 endowed Monsanto chair in agricultural communications at the University of Illinois.
Cargill Inc. donated $10 million more than a decade ago for naming rights on a plant genomics building at the University of Minnesota, while two sensory labs at Purdue carry the imprimaturs of the Kroger Co. and ConAgra Foods Inc.
While the Food and Water Watch report suggests spending millions of dollars on building naming rights may also buy access to key decision makers, the donors and university officials say that's not true.
"In our experience, there is no correlation between naming rights and university research," Monsanto spokeswoman Sara Miller said.
Click here to read the AP story.
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