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Monday, October 18, 2021

Science is Serendipitous: The issue with the “Monsanto” model

Have you heard of Monsanto? It’s a biotechnology company focused on enhancing agriculture. You may have heard about them through the news, or even here on The California Aggie due in large part to the bad press they’ve been getting. You see, the debate is largely focused on two issues with Monsanto — its use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and its suspicious business practices. Whatever you may think of either issue, there is no denying that Monsanto has had massive success in its endeavors. Yet for all of the success this company is having, they are embroiled in scandals and controversies from both the scientific and public communities. The research that Monsanto and other biotechnology companies are doing to genetically engineer our food is a topic that requires a lot of academic reading for a proper debate. What I’m primarily concerned about is the ethics behind Monsanto’s model of “doing science.” It’s a profit-first-based model, aimed at establishing a monopoly-like foothold in the agricultural sector and keeping research behind a closed door. It’s a sore in the scientific community and I believe it’s not how scientific research should be conducted.

We sometimes like to think that science and the law, or science and politics really have nothing to do with each other. Nothing could be further from the truth, as just as in any other field scientists always have to question if their research practices and advances are ethical — something we simply call bioethics. In the case of Monsanto, their whole practice of bioethics has been called into question. One controversial issue is their use of biological patents on many agricultural items that were genetically modified. Their scientific advances to crops are not shared with the agricultural industry, but rather sold at high costs and vehemently guarded against any changes or further alteration. Essentially what this company is doing is creating a monopoly on research.

The work that Monsanto is doing with agriculture is fascinating, and I believe the use of genetic engineering has its benefits. What I disagree with is the model of closed-society research conducted by for-profit companies. I do not believe it is productive to patent essential research for the gain of profit. Research should be shared throughout the scientific community, and from there it can be incorporated to a company’s engineering.

Why do I point to the Monsanto model as a problem? It encourages the aggressive pursuit of a closed-research society, protected under the guise of patents and given political power through lobbying. While doing research for this column, I came across a documentary called The World According to Monsanto. This documentary argued that Monsanto uses politics more than science to establish their domination over agricultural engineering. During Monsanto’s ascendance in the biotechnology industry, much attention was focused on getting politicians and the government to stand behind approving genetically modified crops and techniques — without asking too many questions or debating research.

This came across as shady to me because my belief in genetic engineering has been shaped by scientific research that is shared among the science community. I want to encourage private industry to concern themselves with ethical ways of practicing scientific research. It’s not all about making profit and monopolizing your hold on information. It should be about sharing information with many, so better products can result for society.

For those interested I’ve included a link containing 1783 studies relating to GE safety.

I might be in hiding after writing this, but you can always email me at uwsufi@ucdavis.edu or tweet me (@umayrsufi).

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