QI was reading this article and it states that free inquiry is limited because of patent protection on GMO seeds:http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-researchThe article suggests this limit is unscientific, and

I was reading this article and it states that free inquiry is limited because of patent protection on GMO seeds: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research The article suggests this limit is unscientific, and it seems so to me (as a layman) that it is. What can you tell me about this position the GMO seed companies take? How can it be scientific to not allow free inquiry ?

AExpert Answer

Davis, I LOVES me some Scientific American.  It always has been a pretty reasonable resource at the interface between science and an interested public.  I read the article you cited, and it is raised all the time by critics of biotech.  It is the one place in a reputable source where you'll find the claim that researchers cannot do research on Big Biotech's seeds.  Note the use of "one”.


Being a fan of SciAm, I can't fathom what must have been in the water cooler that day.  The work is authored by "The Editors" and they have been historically pretty good.  My guess is that this was in the transition in 2009 when John Rennie was leaving and perhaps something a little flimsy snuck in.


I say flimsy for two reasons.  First, any academic researcher can get the seeds, and second, anyone with a few hundred bucks can have transgenic plants made.


The Big Ag companies have Academic Research Licenses.  You are free to use their stuff, you just can’t grow it and sell it (duh).  There are no restrictions on publication and they don't care what you are up to.  A student I know recently went on an (unsuccessful) allergen search in some GM soybeans. It was simple to perform independent research without restriction.


You also can go to any of the several universities around the country and pay to have transgenic corn, canola, tomato, and a dozen other crops made.  It's reasonably cheap, like $600 per line.  That's not too much for a researcher with a hunch that GM food has a major problem.  A simple hypothesis with a few good controls might run a few grand, but that's peanuts compared to the Nobel Prize money if it turns out to be correct!


All of this is said understanding that there are significant restrictions on GM crops. In order to grow/use/handle the materials you have to be certified and play by USDA/APHIS rules, which means you have to have tight controls on insects, pests, pollen and must be able to destroy the materials.  Regulations are really tough!  That said, a phone call and a Fed Ex number and I could have materials in my hands in a few days.


In short, anyone claiming a conspiracy to squelch independent research just hasn't tried to do it.  There are many avenues to get the seeds, and since they have the most to lose, I'm guessing the big companies are THRILLED to have independent researchers find a problem if it were to really exist.

Posted on September 20, 2017
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan.    GMO Answers provides the facts that answer questions related to biotechnology, GM crops and agriculture. We work to ensure that the content and answers provided by experts and companies is accurate and therefore do not present opinions about GMOs, simply facts. GMO Answers is a community focused on constructive discussion about GMOs in order to have open conversations about... Read More
Posted on September 5, 2017
While there might be some institutions with the capability to make these transgenic watermelon and coconut plants for you, that does not mean that you would be able to actually plant them out. First, the institution would need to have a Biological Use Authorization to work with recombinant DNA to make the vectors to transfer the genes. Then they would need to be able to do the tissue culture required to transfer the genes and regenerate whole plants again, which can sometimes be difficult.... Read More
Posted on June 19, 2017
Yes, the EU is one of the geographies where GM-derived food and animal feed must be labeled according to conditions outlined by the European Commission on this webpage. GM labels are very common on sacks of animal feed. Depending on the type of animal, GM labeled feed is often the standard – except of course when it comes to GM free or organic supply chains. Read More