How Your College Is Selling Out to Big Ag
Mother Jones, May 9 2012 [extract only]
Last week, the University of Illinois' College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) in Champaign-Urbana made a momentous announcement: it has accepted a $250,000 grant from genetically modified seed/agrichemical giant Monsanto to create an endowed chair for the "Agricultural Communications Program" it runs with the College of Communications.
The university's press release quotes Monsanto's vice president of technology communications giving a taste of its vision for the investment:
With the population expecting to reach 9 billion by 2030, farmers from Illinois and beyond will be asked to produce more crops while using fewer resources. At Monsanto we are committed to bringing farmers advanced ag technologies to help them meet this challenge. Effectively communicating farmers’ efforts to feed, clothe and fuel a rapidly growing population is a major part of the solution.
A cynic might translate that statement this way: In order to maintain highly profitable and hotly contested business model, we'll need a new generation of PR professionals to construct and disseminate our marketing message.
Monsanto's latest gift isn't its first dalliance with the prestigious college, which is located smack-dab in the middle of tens of millions of acres of fields planted with Monsanto's GMO corn and soy seeds and treated with regular doses of the company's Roundup herbicide. Back in 2002, Monsanto donated $200,000 to ACES for the Monsanto Multi-Media Executive Studio, to be "used by faculty and staff of the college for presentations and seminars and for conferences involving companies and organizations with ties to the college and its mission."
Nor is Monsanto the only gigantic food and ag company bestowing cash upon ACES. A cursory look at its the college's web site turned up a recent paper touting a novel infant formula that "boosts babies' immunity"—funded by Nestle Infant Nutrition and co-authored by a researcher in its employ.
Then there's this study, also by ACES researchers, which purports to show that soy protein "alleviates symptoms of fatty liver disease." It's brought to you by grants from the the agribiz-aligned Illinois Soybean Association and Solae, a joint project of agrichemical giants DuPont and Bunge that calls itself "the world leader in developing innovative soy technologies and ingredients for food, meat and nutritional products."
The most remarkable thing about all of this is that it isn't remarkable at all. A few weeks ago, I pointed to a great Chronicle of Higher Education article documenting how university animal-health research has become dominated by a the pharmaceutical industry—and how the products that emerge from that process are much more about pharmaceutical industry profits than animal health. Now there's this eye-opening new report from Food & Water Watch (FWW) that documents in painstaking detail how the food and agrichemical industries have transformed our national public agricultural research infrastructure into essentially an R&D and marketing apparatus for industry. (Similar trends hold for other areas of science research, most prominently medicine.)
FWW reminds us how ag-research institutions like the University of Illinois started: as so-called land-grant universities, launched by the federal government on public land in 1862. The idea of the land grants was to generate agricultural research, funded by the federal government, that benefited society as a whole. And that's pretty much how things went for the first century. " Well into the 20th century, seed-breeding programs at land-grant universities were responsible for developing almost all new seed and plant varieties," FWW writes. It might have added that those varieties were public resources, not owned or patented by any company. Farmers were free to save them for the next season, and many did.
But then, starting in the 1980s, federal government started to level off its investment in ag research—and meanwhile, after passage of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, began to encourage professors to behave like entrepreneurs who could benefit financially from their research, not public employees creating ideas for the public domain. That's when food and agribusiness companies, which were then in the process of consolidating into the vast global enterprises we know today, began to funnel huge amounts of cash into the land grants.
By the early '90s, industry funding had begun to outpace USDA research support for the land grants. And now, as fiscal austerity further pinches federal research funding, the gap between the industry and the USDA as land-grant paymaster has hit an all-time high... READ ON AT http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/05/how-agribusiness-dominates-public-ag-research