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Public Research, Private Gain: Corporate Influence Over University Agricultural Research

New report outlines how corporate influence compromises the mission of land-grant universities

WASHINGTON - From domestication of the blueberry to tools to combat soil erosion, land-grant universities have revolutionized American agriculture for general public benefit almost entirely through public investments from state and federal governments. However, a report released by Food & Water Watch today finds that by 2010, nearly a quarter of funding for agricultural research at land-grant universities now comes from private and corporate donations.

“The original intent that public research should benefit the public has been completely lost and this conflict of interest between public good and private profits remains largely unchallenged by both academia and policymakers,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Sound agricultural policy requires impartial and unbiased scientific inquiry, but like nearly every aspect of our modern food system, land-grant school funding has been overrun by narrow private interests.”

Created by the federal government in 1862, land-grant universities have pioneered vitally important research on plant varieties, soil conservation, advancing rural livelihoods and improving the safety and abundance of food for consumers. The land-grant university system has 109 locations and a presence in every state and territory. It includes some of the largest state universities such as the University of California system, Pennsylvania State University and Texas A&M University.

The report, Public Research, Private Gain: Corporate Influence Over University Agricultural Research, provides a history of the land-grant university system including how, as public funding has stalled in recent decades, these universities have turned to agribusiness to fill the void, compromising the public mission of the institutions.

“Private-sector funding not only corrupts the public research mission of land-grant universities, but also distorts the science that is supposed to help farmers improve their practices and livelihoods,” said Hauter. “Industry-funded academic research routinely produces favorable results for industry sponsors. And since policymakers and regulators frequently cite these university studies to back up their decision-making, industry-funded academic research increasingly influences the rules that govern their business operations.”


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The report outlines the millions of dollars that land-grant universities and professors have received from corporate funders and gives examples of the unencumbered access and influence corporations such as Walmart, Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have received in return. To conclude, the report make several recommendations for ways public agricultural research should be reoriented to serve the common good, including a call for more transparency and using the Farm Bill to direct research funding toward more practical solutions to the day-to-day problems facing farmers.

“If an entire wing of a university department’s building is named after Monsanto, as it is at Iowa State University, can we really expect that school to produce objective, potentially critical, research on genetically engineered foods or the environmental impact of commodity crops?” asked Hauter. “Just as Congress created this beneficial system 150 years ago, Congress must reprioritize public funding so that land-grant universities can pursue their intended goal of researching some of the most troubling problems that plague our food system, economy and public health.”

Public Research, Private Gain: Corporate Influence Over University Agricultural Research can be downloaded here:

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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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