Nature Biotechnology reports that a new research licensing agreement between USDA scientists and Monsanto has been finalized. This licensing agreement was created in response to public comments submitted by 26 public researchers (most of whom remained anonymous) to the Environmental Protection Agency last year regarding restrictions on their research, writing: “No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions involving these crops.” Research that looks at how crops interact with their environments and which varieties perform best is now allowed — that’s right, it wasn’t allowed under previous agreements — while research “outside of agronomic research,” like breeding, is not permitted under the new license agreement.
These scientists should be applauded for voicing their concerns, which earned media attention for the issue of restrictive licensing agreements that inhibit research and innovation, and keep important data from farmers and the greater public. But will they have the courage to closely scrutinize products of agricultural biotechnology?
Many of these scientists remained anonymous in their statement because of industry funding tied to their research. Until we provide more public funding for plant research — abolishing patents on plants is also crucial — public scientists will continue to operate by the largest players’ rules, and independent research on genetically engineered crops will remain in a state of drought.