UC Davis, Monsanto, and the Future of Biotech-

Reprinted from the free weekly, 'The Sacramento News and Review'--

"The future of a major research deal between UC Davis and the Monsanto corporation brings the role of the university into bold relief. How far can a university go in collaborating with private industry before its mission of contributing to basic knowledge becomes distorted? How will we know when it's gone too far?

UC Davis faculty currently receive nearly $10 million in research contracts from the private sector- more than a few of them, according to UCD officials, with Monsanto. Even the most ardent opponents of large scale pact with Monsanto do not oppose contracts between individual professors and companies.

What then to make of a potential agreement between UCD and Monsanto, which could include the location of a Monsanto research facility on or near the campus as well as a broad range of research agreements with faculty? The benefits to UC Davis are obvious: a continuous flow of money; access to Monsanto's proprietary information and cutting-edge technologies; university patents whose licensing fees can fatten UCD's wallet. For some, the question is how a university can afford not to have an arrangement with a company like Monsanto.

The objectors to a Monsanto deal cite several reasons to oppose it: perversion of the faculty's research agenda to meet the profit demands of a corporation; restrictions on the right to publish when using proprietary corporate data; further erosion of open scientific communication among faculty; defilement of UC Davis's reputation through alliance with a company whose corporate practices are protested all over the world.

None of these dilemmas will be removed if the Monsanto deal falls through, because all those millions of dollars of existing private sector contracts will remain.

Even so, the question of scale, of over-reliance on a single source of funds, is a real one. Last April when Davis City Councilwoman Julie Partansky dared suggest reduction of municipal use of Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, she was met with a public rebuke from a Monsanto senior researcher: "As Monsanto searches for a permanent site for its West Coast operations... how would it look for a company to build a base of operations in a city that has banned, or even thought about banning its major product?" The attack on even having a "thought" should not be overlooked. This approach is apparently endemic to Monsanto's corporate culture.

This week two former Fox news journalists were given the prestigious Ethics Award from the US Society of Professional Journalists for their investigative reporting on Monsanto's bovine growth hormone. After heavy legal pressure from Monsanto on Fox, their reports were suppressed and they were fired.

How much greater would be the power of such implicit blackmail if Monsanto had the 'campus-wide' presence desired by some? What then would be the status of any member of the UC Davis community who had an objection to a Monsanto product or practice? Cause for reflection by the UCD faculty before the ink dries on any Monsanto agreement."

….. The story about the Fox news journalists is for real. Journalists Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were fired from the news station Fox 13 in Tampa Florida in December 1997. Those curious will find a more lengthy article about them in the Winter 98 issue of 'Adbusters' magazine.

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