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Report Sheds Light On Agribusiness Influence On Research

Agribusiness influence on research has grown slowly over the last 30 years after the the Bayh-Dole Act incentivized private funding at public universities (photo credit: United Soybean Board)

More and more agricultural research at public universities is being funded by agribusiness rather than the public, according to a reporting collaboration between the New Food Economy and The Guardian.

The authors talked to a host of academics across the country who paint a picture of pressure and intimidation from the industry.

In 1982, the Bayh-Dole Act cleared the way for private funding for farming research. By design, the amount of that funding is difficult to track. As public funding withered over the last three decades, private money from companies has swept in, with strings attached.

In Iowa, the state's Farm Bureau has contributed more than $3 million to Iowa State University over the last 30 years.

The Pork Council provides scholarships to the university's ag students, and in 2016 alone, the Council paid at least $200,000 directly to Iowa State, according to tax reports.

Meanwhile, three decades of research into sustainable agriculture was scuttled in 2017 when then-governor Terry Branstad ended funding for the Aldo Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State.

In 2002, after an independent collaborative study on emissions from animal feed operations by two dozen scientists, the Farm Bureau immediately demanded a meeting with the professors, and the university soon distanced itself from the report.

An investigation into livestock antibiotics by the Pew Charitable Trusts in the mid-2000s that was treated like a hot potato at several land-grant schools, with professors admitting in private that they were under pressure to secure industry funding for industry-friendly research.

In 2012, Food and Water Watch released a report saying that by 2010, private donations provided nearly a quarter of the funding for agricultural research at land-grant universities.

In the 2014 farm bill, Congress earmarked $200 million in taxes to fund the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, a private foundation that is required to get matching funds from the private sector to do research projects.

Backers of that group includes corn and soybean industry groups, Monsanto, and an affiliate group called The BioAgAlliance.

The group's board of directors includes staff from Cargill, the National Corn Growers Association, PepsiCo and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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