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April 30th, 2013

Higher Education Brought to You By the Biotech Industry

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Journalism and agriculture students at public universities, watch out.

Your administrators are laying out the red carpet for corporate junkets at a campus near you. With names like HungerU and Biotech University, these “educational” opportunities amount to little more than a slick propaganda campaign from biotech corporations.

DuPont Crop Protection (translation: herbicides and pesticides) is visiting universities in California and Arizona this week, wooing students with $2,500 grants and embarking on a mission to “educate college students about the significance of modern agriculture.” It’s called HungerU.

That’s a catchy name, but does a profit-driven chemical producer whose goal is to expand herbicide and pesticide sales really have much to offer students on the issue of food security? Something tells me its answer to hunger is more chemicals.

Meanwhile, Biotech U goes beyond the ag school to influence an entirely different set of future professionals: journalism students. Each year, the industry-friendly United Soybean Board partners with our nation’s journalism schools in an effort to “educate” future reporters about the role of biotechnology. The program includes all-expense paid gigs on agricultural reporting in exotic places like Turkey and China. This year, the winner goes to Italy. Who wouldn’t want a trip to Italy?

Noting that these future journalists will be “shaping the public’s perception of biotechnology in the coming decades,” Biotech U is part of a long-term strategic plan by the biotech industry to foster public acceptance of genetically engineered crops. The program also intends to “enlist future biotech advocates identified within university journalism programs to develop a draft program at other journalism schools.”

These insidious efforts by the biotech industry are a very small part of the hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into academia from corporations, distorting the science and perverting the mission of higher education. Our public universities increasingly function like corporate laboratories—taking corporate research money to conduct experiments in corporate-sponsored laboratories, then publishing pro-industry findings in corporate-sponsored “scientific” journals.

Food & Water Watch detailed the ways in which industry is buying influence at our public universities in our report Public Research, Private Gain.

This new era of corporate influence is undermining intellectual freedom and academic independence. Professors that might otherwise pursue research that might challenge the bottom lines of biotech companies—for example, studying the negative health, environmental or economic effects of pesticides and biotech crops—simply choose not to for fear of losing future industry research funding or upsetting tenure-granting administrators. That means federal agencies writing the rules and regulations that govern biotech corporations often base their decisions on a body of science that only says industrial agriculture is safe, good and necessary.

Meanwhile, farmers that might want to want to pursue an alternative production model to agrochemicals, monocultures and factory farms have little research or academic support.

And students—our next generation of journalists, farmers and policy makers—graduate from schools that increasingly offer only the virtues of big business instead of teaching students to think critically about the dominant model of industrial agriculture or consider alternative solutions.

Don’t biotech and pesticide companies already have too much influence over our public universities? If you attend one of these schools, call your university administrators and tell them enough is enough.

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