Not too long ago, if you asked Wisconsin residents how they felt about GMO, they might have thought you were referring to the Greater Milwaukee Open, a golf tournament on the PGA Tour. Today we watch with interest an international agreement signed in Montreal to regulate trade in genetically modifed plants; Europe’s anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) movement; and riots in Seattle protesting any action that the World Trade Organization might take supporting GM food. After all, for those of us at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, many academic careers as well as the fruit of about $400 million a year in research creates a rooted interest in the fate of agricultural biotechnology.
The anti-GMO movement raises legitimate concern that insufficient research and environmental testing are being done on GMO agricultural products. These fears must be addressed. But, while industry and the government do test such products before introducing them, neither has the luxury to ask the same kind of open-ended, basic questions that university researchers can. And when industry owns agricultural patents, the pressure it exerts in collaborations with academics is formidable. To guarantee professors complete freedom, therefore, it is best that universities own the basic intellectual property rights to the subjects of their research.
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