Academic Research Agreements

Monsanto fully supports research by the public sector research community with commercial products and fully endorses comparisons with competitors’ commercial products.

In June 2009, corn entomologists from public universities and the U.S. government met with representatives of the country’s seed companies – including Monsanto – in Ames, Iowa. The topic of the meeting, coordinated by the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), was academic research; specifically, how to strike a balance between the seed companies’ desire for well-designed scientific studies and the public scientists’ desire to conduct hassle-free research on transgenic seed. The ensuing discussion led to the development of a set of principles that we hope will bring a better understanding of the companies’ commitment to and support of wide-ranging research with GM crops.

The issue of academic research first gained major media attention in February 2009. A comment was posted in the Federal Register from a group of 26 scientists who participate in NCR-46, a group of public sector researchers who study insect-protected GM crops. The comment was sent to the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) concerning their review of insect resistance management strategies. The scientists stated that Technology/Stewardship Agreements are a barrier to independent research. The statement reads as follows:

Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology, its performance, its management implications, IRM, and its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited.

Monsanto was, at the time, surprised by these 26 scientists’ complaint. Our surprise was based on our own experience working with academic researchers, as those experiences have been overwhelmingly positive over the years. Monsanto has agreements with universities that enable thousands of researchers to conduct research programs with our commercial products. These researchers have conducted well-designed, well-controlled studies and published their results in peer-reviewed scientific journals. On occasion, these researchers have come to conclusions with which we did not agree. Their conclusions have been published and we continue to work with and supply seed for their research.

Why does Monsanto continue to work with researchers with whose conclusions we do not agree? We do it because research conducted by third parties at all stages of a product’s life cycle provides important information for the developers, regulators, farmers, consumers and the public at large. Studies that raise new questions or validate prior findings are reviewed and assessed to determine what additional research and development may be needed and help inform decisions on future products.

One of the reasons we’ve enjoyed a positive relationship with public sector scientists, we believe, is because of our blanket agreements with universities. Years ago, each time a scientist or group of scientists from a university wanted to study Monsanto’s products, both parties would sign a contract specific to that study. The sheer number of such studies for which we provided our seed made that model of contract signing cumbersome for both parties.

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.

The February 2009 comment, and the June 2009 meeting, helped us realize that we can do more to communicate to university researchers the freedom they have to conduct wide-ranging research programs with commercialized Monsanto GM crops. We’ve already begun an extensive outreach effort to share that message with the universities holding an ARL.

The principles developed by the seed industry include:

PRINCIPLES and OBJECTIVES:

  • To enable the public sector research community to independently conduct research studies on commercially available seed products in laboratory, greenhouse, and field settings for the purpose of understanding the technology, education, extension and the safe and effective use of these products.

    This research may include:

    • agronomic and yield comparisons;
    • testing for compositional profile such as oil content;
    • studies related to end-use such as animal feeding;
    • comparative efficacy studies;
    • studies on interactions of the trait with pest biology and pest management practices including interactions related to resistance management;
    • studies on interactions of introduced traits with the environment
    This statement does not address:

    • breeding with plants produced from the seed;
    • reverse engineering or characterizing the genetic composition of patent-protected traits in seed;
    • development of methods for detecting the presence or absence of patent-protected traits in seed;
    • use of non-commercial methods to detect the presence or absence of patent-protected traits in seed;
    • research on modifications or improvements to the patent-protected traits
  • To assure that the public sector research community is free to design robust, scientifically sound experimental protocols and methodologies, and to derive independent conclusions.

  • To encourage and assure that the public sector research community is free to publish findings in peer reviewed scientific or research journals, with reasonable notice to companies.

  • To assure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, respect for intellectual property, and the use of comprehensive stewardship programs that promote the responsible and safe management of commercially approved and available seed products.

  • To facilitate access among private sector and public institutions to commercial, licensed technologies for the research and testing purposes stated above.

  • To assure a regular and ongoing dialogue between the seed industry and the public sector researchers and institutions.

Adopted:

American Seed Trade Association’s Executive Committee, Sept. 17, 2009

Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Food & Agriculture Section Governing Board, Sept. 10, 2009

We realize that the process within companies and at universities has been a challenge despite well-intentioned efforts to enable research by public sector researchers. Hopefully, the increased attention and the collaborative efforts by the industry and research community will result in a greater awareness of the industry-supported research principles and stream-lined processes that are in place to support research with commercial products. Monsanto is committed to improve overall communications on research with commercial products internally and externally, and to continue to promote dialogue to resolve any questions or concerns in the future.

Finally, some researchers are skeptical that all seed companies will follow the principles set forth at the June meeting. “The devil is in the details,” they say – and they’re taking a wait-and-see approach. We understand their wariness. We cannot speak for any other seed company, but Monsanto is committed to the principles of increased access to seed for scientifically valid, robust studies – and the increased dialogue between the seed companies and public sector researchers that we hope comes with them.