By MICHAEL STUMO
Should Help Farmers
The fundamental, long term goal in the food production system should be
to preserve the family farm structure of production agriculture. This structure
is efficient in three ways: economically, socially and environmentally.
The reason for the current ag crisis is very simple: the consolidation of
the industry by big agribusiness. Markets are distorted and rendered irrelevant,
producers are frozen out of markets, Main Street dies, consumers are provided
unhealthy, chemical-laden food, and multinational corporations control the
productive assets of agriculture in response to investor demands for growth,
market share and a competitive return on equity in their portfolio.
Citizens and political leaders need to use every tool at their disposal
to fight for the public good. One of the most important tools are the land-grant
universities which were created by statute and are publicly funded. However,
many land-grant universities are failing in their duty to the public and
their taxpayer benefactors. They have been lured by private corporate dollars
to research and solve private corporate problems resulting in an ever-faster
consolidation of agriculture. Thus, the many, if not most, land-grant universities
dedicate an unacceptably small percentage of their relevant agricultural
efforts to the broader public good.
It is an axiom of politics that money buys influence and that gifts come
with strings attached. The same is true for academia. In an anonymous survey
performed by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Minnesota,
published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more
than half of the university scientists who received gifts from drug or biotechnology
companies admitted that the donors expected to exert influence over their
work, including review of academic papers before publication and patent
rights for commercial discoveries. This study occurred in the midst of growing
controversy over the role of corporations in our universities.
A case study of university corporatization is the University of Missouri
(MU) which can be viewed as a de facto corporate subsidiary of Monsanto.
At MU, Monsanto and other big agribusinesses provide millions of "strings-attached"
dollars for research and academic programs and they have very close relationships
with the administration and faculty. The flawed result is that MU efforts
have increasingly strayed from the public good to promotion of private corporate
The most recent and high-profile example of this diversion of effort is
the new Plant Science Center in St. Louis which is funded, in part, by $25
million in public corporate welfare dollars in the form of tax credits.
Many MU faculty and students will be working alongside Monsanto scientists
to advance the controversial science of genetic alteration of life forms.
The MU participation not only gives Monsanto publicly funded scientific
information, it also serves Monsanto's public relations efforts as a powerful
legitimizer of biotechnology in the face of public scrutiny.
Family farmers are being squeezed off their land by the uncontrolled growth
of agribusiness production, monopoly concentration, and vertical integration.
Monsanto's goal is integration of the crop industry. In a speech promoting
biotechnology, Steve Askew, national account manager for Monsanto, told
the Agricultural Retailers Association convention last December that "We're
really talking about the integration of the ag industry."
Roger Mitchell, Dean of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources at MU,
has been working for 15 years to cement the relationship between Monsanto
and MU. One agribusiness executive, not from Monsanto, stated flatly to
MU professors that "the University of Missouri was easier to work with
than most because they didn't have a lot of restrictions on how agribusiness
could go about commercializing research discoveries."
There are many other aspects of influence of MU by Monsanto:
(ogonek) Monsanto has an ongoing grants program contributing millions of
tax deductible dollars to MU researchers each year;
(ogonek) Monsanto executives have been and are members of MU's planning
committees including, but not limited to, the Development Council, the Strategic
Development Board and the School of Accountancy's Advisory Board;
(ogonek) Monsanto co-sponsors many events in various MU departments;
(ogonek) Monsanto scientists are adjunct professors at MU;
(ogonek) MU professors do studies inside Monsanto facilities to help implement
private corporate goals, such as reducing the accident rate at Monsanto's
animal research facility;
(ogonek) Monsanto sponsors student workshops during university events such
as Molecular Biology Week.
This is only the surface. By penetrating the university to this extent,
Monsanto gains a tremendous amount of influence over research priorities
and institutional direction. There is also the direct or subtle effect of
quashing research and outreach which may criticize or be out-of-step with
Monsanto's interests and goals. Additionally, limited MU resources are diverted
from promoting the family farm structure of agriculture to promoting the
good of Monsanto.
What should the land grant universities and public research dollars be promoting?
Public research funds must be directed towards increasing the farmer share
of the food dollar.
Land grant universities must serve the public good and conduct research
inquiry regardless of the potential for financial gain.
Public research funds must target priority research issues that the private
sector is not already capable of funding.
The discipline of agricultural economics should be directed towards fostering
efficient and strong rural economies, circulating dollars locally, and concentrating
productive assets in the hands of the masses.
Family-farmer-friendly food systems--including sustainable farming, organic
agriculture and local food systems--should be the focus.
Agricultural concentration must be discouraged.
University research should not be commercialized, but should be publicly
available in a nonproprietary manner.
Today's crisis will not be solved without a revolutionary effort to uproot
its causes. A significant cause of the crisis is the transformation of land-grant
universities from public servants into corporate subsidiaries. Land grant
universities must depend primarily on public moneys to support its efforts.
MU must conduct research which benefits rural America directly, not through
"trickle down" transfers of research, patents and licensing rights
to private corporations. Only then will these institutions be convincingly
redirected to serving the public good.
Michael C. Stumo is a former Iowa farmer who practices public interest
law relating to the food industry from a farmer/consumer perspective in
Connecticut. Email email@example.com.
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