Collaboration is Key to Nourishing a Growing World: Our Response to the special interest group U.S. Right to Know

At Monsanto, we’re working with others to address some of the world’s biggest challenges – from combating climate change, to preserving water and other resources, to making a more balanced meal accessible for everyone.  No one person or organization has all the solutions to these issues.  But we can all do our part.

Among many other partners, we’re proud to collaborate with non-governmental organizations; family farmers here in the U.S. and small-holder growers in Africa and India; and world-class researchers at major universities.

Recently, a special-interest group called U.S. Right to Know has called into question collaborations between agriculture companies and researchers at several major public universities.  This special-interest group has used state open-records laws to request copies of communications between researchers at these universities and employees of Monsanto, other agriculture companies, and various firms and trade associations.  While we respect open-records laws as a vital safeguard in a democratic society, we share the concern of organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science that agenda-driven interest groups can also exploit these laws as a means to silence scholars and researchers who speak out on important topics – in this case, agricultural biotechnology.  

At Monsanto, we see public-private collaborations as essential to the advancement of science, innovation and agriculture.  The researchers with whom we collaborate are some of the best and brightest minds in agriculture and plant science.  Their ideas are vital to the future health of people and our planet.  We fully stand by our professional relationships and collaborations, and we see these records requests as little more than intimidation and academic bullying.

How do we collaborate?

Here are some examples of the collaborations that USRTK – and anyone else – will see as they review these documents:

Evaluating the safety and performance of new products through field trials
Agriculture companies routinely work with researchers at public universities to conduct field trials as part of the U.S. regulatory process.  The trials are vital to develop important scientific information, to assess the performance of a new trait, and to generate the necessary environmental safety data required by regulatory authorities that evaluate commercial product approvals.  Researchers conduct the trials in accordance with strict procedures and stringent auditing, reporting and compliance requirements.  Like other companies, we sign contracts with the researchers who conduct these trials, and we pay fees to them and the universities for performing this highly technical research.

Collaborating in academic and industry organizations and conferences
Many of our scientists belong to the same academic and industry associations as these university researchers.  It is not uncommon for industry scientists and University scientists to serve in leadership positions in these associations and to plan conferences, meetings and other events together.  These interactions allow researchers to report on the trials they have conducted and promote the exchange of information that advances scientific knowledge for all.  Sometimes, if we invite or request an academic to speak at a meeting or public forum, we will cover the speaker’s travel expenses or provide an honorarium, as is common practice in many industries.

Sharing agronomic data and recommendations
Our scientists and agronomists will turn to academic experts for agronomic advice and guidance to share with customers and others in the field, and university researchers approach our experts as well.  These types of conversations ensure that information flows from the lab to the field and back.

Serving as graduate degree advisors and academic mentors
Many Monsanto scientists are graduates of the world’s most respected graduate programs in agriculture, plant science and related fields, including the graduate programs at the University of California-Davis, the University of Florida, the University of Illinois and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  In some cases, the university researchers subject to these requests were academic advisers or dissertation committee chairs for Monsanto scientists, and these individuals continue to maintain a professional relationship. 

IN THE NEWS: What others are saying

Why Did Anti-GMO group Target Certain University Academics?
Discover Blog, Keith Kloor, February 13, 2015

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Co-authoring peer-reviewed research in academic journals
Our scientists are recognized experts in their professional fields as well, and many of our scientists routinely publish peer-reviewed papers in academic journals, as do their counterparts at other agriculture companies.  Our scientists will collaborate and co-author papers with university researchers on topics of mutual interest.  In addition, Monsanto scientists frequently serve as peer-reviewers or site on the editorial boards of such publications. This is common practice in any scientific industry.

Recruiting the best and brightest to work in agriculture
These university professors work with some of the best and brightest young minds in agriculture – the next generation of leaders who will move our industry forward.  When we are hiring for research positions, we sometimes turn to these professors to help us identify top talent.  We also work with university researchers to administer our Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, which encourages aspiring graduate students to pursue doctoral degrees in rice and wheat breeding.

Providing factual information and resources on agriculture, biotechnology and other matters to the general public, including through the GMO Answers website
We understand that consumers have questions about agriculture, and especially about GMOs.  As part of the Council for Biotechnology Information, Monsanto is one of the founding members of the GMO Answers website.  Through this website, experts from companies like Monsanto, industry leaders, farmers, and independent university researchers are answering a wide range of questions about GMOs and other agricultural practices.  GMO Answers is transparent about its mission, purpose and funding on its website.

Advocating for sound public policy on issues relating to agriculture
Monsanto, like other companies and stakeholders, advocates our position before governments. Specifically, we advocate for supportive policies, regulation and laws that are based on the principles of sound science. Academic experts who share our science-based views sometimes advocate in support of the same policies.  We occasionally share our opinions in similar public forums, and Monsanto employees and academic researchers sometimes share the stage at events.  In every case, we thoroughly follow local laws and conduct routine audits to ensure our efforts are transparent, appropriate and legal. 

IN THE NEWS: What others are saying

Open records laws becoming vehicle for harassing academic researchers, report warns
Science Magazine, Puneet Kollipara, February 13, 2015

More articles »

As Monsanto employees, our collaborations in each of these areas are strictly governed by our Code of Business Conduct and other corporate policies.  The Code addresses the many legal and ethical facets of integrity in business dealings with customers, suppliers, investors, the public, governments that regulate us, and communities where we do business.  In addition, the Code outlines several means for employees to raise questions or concerns about integrity and for the company to address these issues appropriately.

Agenda-driven groups often take individual documents or quotes out of context in an attempt to distort the facts, advance their agenda, and stop legitimate research.  As company built on sound science, we hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We will use this website to provide information regarding the claims by U.S. Right to Know.  We have also included links to third-party resources to help readers understand the issues involved in this situation.  We invite everyone to review the facts and consider both sides of the story.

Additional Resources