Some items for the “no, really?” category

Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists.

All the while, [Stanford] cultivated a comfortable relationship with Antiguan officials. The bank made loans to the Antiguan government, which often used the money to award his companies lucrative construction contracts. To clean up the nation’s image as a dodgy tax haven, the authorities installed him on a new regulatory authority to oversee its banks — including his own.

To some, it felt too cozy.


  1. I think we’re looking at the biotech restrictions from the wrong perspective. Here’s what the article says…

    “The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.

    So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say. ”

    Sounds like Big Biotech is trying to cover up research, right?

    From Wikipedia:

    “The hallmark of proprietary software licenses is that the software publisher grants a license to use one or more copies of software, but that ownership of those copies remains with the software publisher (hence use of the term “proprietary”). One consequence of this feature of proprietary software licenses is that virtually all rights regarding the software are reserved by the software publisher. Only a very limited set of well-defined rights are conceded to the end-user. Therefore, it is typical of proprietary software license agreements to include many terms which specifically prohibit certain uses of the software, often including uses which would otherwise be allowed under copyright law.

    The most significant effect of this form of licensing is that, if ownership of the software remains with the software publisher, then the end-user must accept the software license. In other words, without acceptance of the license, the end-user may not use the software at all.

    One example of such a proprietary software license is the license for Microsoft Windows. As is usually the case with proprietary software licenses, this license contains an extensive list of activities which are restricted, such as: reverse engineering, simultaneous use of the software by multiple users, and publication of benchmarks or performance tests.”

    See the parallel?

  2. The parallel exists only in the realm of the intangible property concept.

    The problem is that genetically modified crops are *not* in any way benign. They are altered to produce pesticides to kill insects, or to withstand herbicides or diseases. Some GM products are outlawed from being used as human food.

    The pollen from genetically modified crops drifts with the wind and is transferred by pollinating insects. Where GM crops border non-GM crops, the non-GM crops thus become hybridized. If the neighboring farmer saves seeds — common among farmers — the resulting seed is contaminated with GM genes. The result may enter the food supply. It may kill beneficial insects. (GM crops have been implicated in the recent widespread mass die off of bees). It may create more virulent & resistant insects and diseases (in a similar manner as when “superbugs” are created by over-prescribing antibiotics).

    Also, Monsanto has repeatedly and successfully sued neighboring traditional farmers who save seeds — because they unintentionally saved seed contaminated with Monstanto’s intellectual property.

    Biologists and those interested in the well-being of the environment would like to test GM products — but are prevented by Monsanto’s practice of stiffling research that casts GM crops in a negative light.

    Why should non-scientists be concerned? Because a world without pollinating insects, or with crop super-diseases, or with only one kind of crop seed — Monsanto seed — would be very bad indeed. (Remember the great famine of Ireland? Large population, overly dependent on one type of disease-vulnerable potato, and several decades of crop failure due to potato blight, Phytophthora infestans)

    This practice is very bad science — and quite similar to what occurred with cigarette manufacturers in the 50’s and 60’s. Phillip Morris and other tabacco companies funded research, did their very best to muzzle research that showed a cancer connection, and published only those studies that indicated their product was healthful (or at the very worst, not harmful). I remember well their advertisments: “9 out of 10 doctors recommend Pall Mall over any other cigarette.” !!!!!

    I repeat: the parallel exists only in the realm of the intangible property concept. Oh … and powerful corporations with a plethora of on-staff attorneys and a vested interest in suppressing the truth … that, too.

  3. The “intangible property concept” is absolutely fundamental. “Intangible concepts” such as property, control, and rights are the only thing a corporation understands. As a system, it’s not designed to be remotely receptive to human concerns like health and fairness. The Biotech corporations are not maliciously covering up the truth, they’re acting naturally in defense of their precious intellectual property.

    I thought the comparison to Microsoft software was especially apt. Though your motivations may be health and concern for the environment, you essentially have two solutions. You can use the government and compel it to intervene in property law, as happened when the US and EU broke up Windows and Internet Explorer. Or you can compete with an “open source” product as Linux as has done against Windows. Open Source models, unlike corporations, are very much susceptible to human factors like environmental concern and fairness but are still capable of competing in the economic marketplace alongside proprietary models.

    The parallel with software is extremely close. Either compel the state to legally act in the name of your concerns or cultivate competition with a more evolved version.

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