By Emily Waltz
Are the crop industry’s strong-arm tactics and close-fisted attitude to sharing seeds holding back independent research and undermining public acceptance of transgenic crops?
The increasingly fractious relationship between public sector researchers and the biotech seed industry has come into the spotlight in recent months. In July, several leading seed companies met with a group of entomologists, who earlier in the year had lodged a public complaint with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over restricted access to materials. In a letter to the EPA, the 26 public sector scientists complained that crop developers are curbing their rights to study commercial biotech crops.
“No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions involving these crops [because of company-imposed restrictions],” they wrote.
In turn, the seed companies have expressed surprise at the outcry, claiming the issue is being overblown. And even though the July meeting, organized by the American Seed Trade Association in Alexandria, Virginia, did result in the writing of a set of principles for carrying out this research, the seed companies are under no compunction to follow them.
“From the researchers’ perspective, the key for this meeting was opening up communication to discuss the problem,” says Ken Ostlie, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, who signed the complaint. “It will be interesting to see how companies implement the principles they agreed upon.”
What is clear is that the seed industry is perceived as highly secretive and reluctant to share its products with scientists. This is fueling the view that companies have something to hide.
Read full pdf at Nature Biotechnology