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I was linked to this article on Global Research.ca today which claims that GMO companies (specifically Monsanto, but also naming DuPont and Syngenta) ban independent research on their seeds.

There are no independent scientific studies published in any reputed scientific journal in the world for one simple reason. It is impossible to independently verify that GMO crops such as Monsanto Roundup Ready Soybeans or MON8110 GMO maize perform as the company claims, or that, as the company also claims, that they have no harmful side effects because the GMO companies forbid such tests!

That’s right. As a precondition to buy seeds, either to plant for crops or to use in research study, Monsanto and the gene giant companies must first sign an End User Agreement with the company. For the past decade, the period when the greatest proliferation of GMO seeds in agriculture has taken place, Monsanto, Pioneer (DuPont) and Syngenta require anyone buying their GMO seeds to sign an agreement that explicitly forbids that the seeds be used for any independent research.

....

The only research which is permitted to be published in reputable scientific peer-reviewed journals are studies which have been pre-approved by Monsanto and the other industry GMO firms.

Is it true that Monsanto and other GMO companies forbid independent testing of their seeds? I am skeptical of this claim because "seed piracy" can already be defended against by existing copyright/patent laws, and it seems counterproductive to ban independent research when it bolsters the cause of GMO as a whole.

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The Global Research article has a confusing date line:

Global Research, January 22, 2013
Global Research, 29 July 2009

In 2009, Monsanto did heavily restrict independent science. An October 2009 news feature by Emily Waltz in Nature Biotechnology talks about a complaint by 26 scientists to the EPA about seed company's restrictions.

"No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions involving these crops [because of company-imposed restrictions]"

In late 2009, seed companies, including Monsanto reacted to these complaints and changed their requirements.

Monsanto explains their new Public Research Agreements: (hat tip to @Atsby for the link)

As a result, Monsanto introduced the blanket agreement, which allows university scientists to work with Monsanto’s commercial seed products without contacting the company or signing a separate contract. This blanket agreement – the Academic Research License (ARL) – enables academic researchers to do research with commercialized products with as few constraints as possible. ARLs are in place with all major agriculturally-focused US universities – about 100 in total.

So, scientists are still required by Monsanto to comply to some restrictions, but the level of the restrictions has been lowered, and it can no longer be said that Monsanto forbids independent research.

What do these agreements actually say? They appear to be confidential, which is disappointing, and fosters some doubts over the scientific integrity of the resulting research - particularly publication bias.

However, the same science writer, Emily Waltz, reported this update as a News Brief in the October 2010 issue of the same journal. She quotes anonymous scientists as being happy with the new agreement:

“[The agreement] is extremely good and specific. ARS will be allowed to do basically everything that could be desired,” says one ARS scientist who asked to remain anonymous.

Waltz examined a version of the agreement:

The Monsanto-ARS agreement obtained by Nature Biotechnology allows ARS scientists to conduct agronomic research—studies on how crops interact with local environments and which varieties perform best. Studies outside of agronomic research, such as breeding, reverse engineering or characterizing the genetic composition of the crop, require separate contracts with the company. The agreement is nearly identical in scope to Monsanto’s licenses with universities, but is more specific. An appendix included in ARS’s license lists more than 25 examples of the specific types of studies that are considered “agronomic” and therefore permissible—a definition that has been unclear to public sector scientists in the past. “It allows us to do our research under a blanket agreement instead of negotiating everything [with Monsanto] every time,” says Larry Chandler, an area director at ARS who facilitated the negotiations. “This is much more efficient for all parties.”

To summarise:

  • This was largely true in 2009 that Monsanto tightly controlled independent research. It was no longer true in 2013. There are still some limitations on scientists, but Monsanto doesn't forbid independent research.

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