Corporate money doesn’t taint university ag research
The reality of agricultural research at U.S. land-grant universities is that if it were not for private industry investment there wouldn’t be much research going on at all. Federal and state funding of ag research continues to decline, but teaching and learning depends on some hands-on research for educating the agricultural scientists of the future.
The Food and Water Watch, a consumer environmental advocacy group, recently completed a study about ag research funding that found “nearly one-quarter of the money spent on agricultural research at land-grant universities comes from corporations, trade associations and foundations,” according to Alan Scher Zagier, an Associated Press reporter.
That percentage concerns the Food and Water Watch group, but many land-grant university professors and agricultural professionals would have estimated the percentage of such funding would have been even higher. Government funds to support research has been rapidly drying up, and there have been cutbacks in the university professors with research responsibilities or Extension field work projects. The most recent financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was the lowest level in nearly 20 years and accounted for less than 15 percent of the total research budgets at the universities, according to the study findings.
“Today most of our research has to be funded by our corporate partners because they are the ones with the dollars to do so. If we want to increase yields and improve sustainability and make them a national priority, there are research people out there that can make it happen. But there is almost no money that goes into yield research other than from the corporate partners,” said Fred Below, professor of crop physiology, University of Illinois. He made his comments during the BASF Agricultural Solutions Media Summit in Chicago last week.
Food and Water Watch apparently sees the private sector “meddling in the lab” as Scher Zagier wrote, and ‘corrupts’ the mission of land-grant universities to maintain agriculture and engineering focused educational programs. The activist group’s report is titled “Public Research, Private Gain.”
There are examples of private companies trying to block some university research or sharing of research results, but false results are not issued because of corporate pressure, according to deans of universities. The deans consistently say they are positive corporate funding does not influence research results.