A recent study by Food and Water Watch shows that nearly on-quarter of the money spent on agricultural research at land-grant universities comes from corporations, trade associations and foundations. That is at an all-time high. Financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture accounts for less than 15 percent, the lowest level in nearly two decades.
The report also looks at the blurrly lines created when universities and industry work hand-in-hand, such as when South Dakota State University sued farmers over wheat seed patents as part of a public-private coalition formed with a Monsanto Company subsidiary. Kansas State University, Colorado State and Texas A&M have pursued similar lawsuits.
Thomas Payne, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri says his college is “caught between a rock and a hard place.” He says, “In order for research to continue, we have to have support from a variety of sources.”
Monsanto has played a prominent role on the Missouri campus, with Monsanto Auditorium where science student attend lectures. The building was built in part with a $950,000 grant from the company. And Monsanto Place “life sciences business incubator” was built with the help of a $2 million corporate grant. The company has also given $1 million for the Monsanto Student Services Wing at Iowa State University’s Collage of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a $250,000 endowed Monsanto chair in agricultural communications at the University of Illinois. Cargill Incorporated donated $10 million more than a decade ago for naming rights on a plant genomics building at the University of Minnesota, while two sensory labs at Purdue hold name imprints of the Kroger Company and ConAgra Foods Inc.
Food and Water Watch’s report suggests that the millions of dollars given for naming rights on buildings at the schools may buy access to key decision makers, donors and university officials deny that sentiment.
Kelli Powers, a Monsanto spokeswoman, said the company “is proud of its contributions to land-grant universities and support of university agricultural research,” whether through naming rights or student scholarships.