WSU’s Official Position on I-522, the GMO labeling initiative

September 12, 2013
By Chad Kruger

Several people have inquired about the position of WSU, the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources on I-522, the initiative focused on GMO labeling in Washington State. The attached memo from Provost Dan Bernardo and Interim Dean Ron Mittelhammer clarifies that WSU and CAHNRS are officially neutral in relation to I-522. It further explains that while individual faculty members (current and emeritus) have the right to express their opinions as individual citizens, these opinions do not constitute a position for the University or College. This position is consistent with the investments that the University and College have been making in sustainable and organic agriculture research and education over the years, including CSANR.

CSANR’s position with regard to I-522 is the same as the University and College that we are part of: we are neutral. In speaking with CSANR Advisory Committee members earlier this year (who stand on both sides of the issue), there was consensus that this was a desirable position for the Center to have. While we certainly have faculty with scientific expertise relevant to the issue, our responsibility is to conduct and disseminate research-based information for the public to weigh and consider and not to advocate for a specific political outcome. Therefore, the extent of our action to date has been to point people to specific scientific resources relevant to the debate.

Some may also be wondering what CSANR’s larger “policy” is on genetic engineering/GMO crops. Again, consistent with the consensus guidance we’ve received from the CSANR Advisory Committee, the Center has remained “neutral on the debate”. However, we have also explicitly elected to make sure that our unit-level research investments are consistent with the larger consensus of the sustainable agriculture community and specific considerations of community members who supported the establishment of CSANR and the BIOAg grant program. Therefore, our grant program (BIOAg) funding may not be used to support the development of, or promote stakeholder use of, transgenic crops.

7 comments on “WSU’s Official Position on I-522, the GMO labeling initiative”

  1. Heather Burke said on September 12, 2013:

    This is a relief:
    “Therefore, our grant program (BIOAg) funding may not be used to support the development of, or promote stakeholder use of, transgenic crops.”
    How much research funding comes from Agri-Business and Bio-tech industries?

  2. Chad Kruger said on September 12, 2013:

    Heather – thank you for the question. The answer requires a bit of nuance in explanation. CSANR itself receives no funding and has received no funding from biotech companies or industries. We do received funding from “Agri-Business” if you are referring to commercial businesses involved in agriculture and food. However, none of that funding supports transgenic research. In fact, most of it funnels directly into organic research. The majority of the funding the Center receives for research and education comes from government grants and contracts.

    This “funding to the Center” does need to be distinguished from outside funding received by WSU faculty members affiliated with CSANR. There are many affiliated faculty (CSANR has more than 150 faculty affiliates) who do have capabilities and interests in various genomic research pursuits, but I’m not in a position to clarify the extent of funding to their programs that are not connected to CSANR. The reality is that there are very few remaining “either-or” scientists in the system … and an increasing number of scientists who work across the spectrum bringing their skills and expertise to sustainable / organic and other systems. The importance of CSANR / BIOAg funding is that it’s been a critical mechanism for incentivizing scientists to work on sustainable and organic agriculture issues when they otherwise might not. Since BIOAg was established, more than 75 additional WSU faculty have begun working in organic / sustainable ag systems.

    The other confounding factor is that most “genomic research” has nothing to do with transgenic (or related) applications. Many of the scientists who are faculty affiliates use genomic research simply from the point of view of analytical tools to improve scientific understanding of the functions of plants, soils and the microbial community. This approach has actually dramatically increased our scientific capacity to understand and support organic and sustainable agriculture systems, but is often mistakenly “lumped in” with research focused on transgenic crops. For instance, genomic tools can help us understand how and why the use of a green manure crop can suppress pathogens in an organic system with no connection whatsoever to transgenic crops.

  3. Heather Burke said on September 12, 2013:

    Thanks, Chad. Perhaps I should have spent time on explaining my question. While funding has been used to effect the outcome of research in a negative way, I am supportive of research for positive outcomes, and I’m sure we’ll be able to cultivate that movement! Or at least I hope so!

  4. Chad Kruger said on September 12, 2013:

    Thanks Heather. We have largely invested resources in ‘alternatives’ to simplistic solutions, as you mention. We also recently brought in Chuck Benbrook, who just published an evaluation of the trends of use of GMO crops.

    http://organicfarms.wsu.edu/blog/sustainability-blog/gecrops/

    Chuck’s written a couple of other posts on GMO technology recently, too.

  5. Heather Burke said on September 12, 2013:

    More thanks!

  6. Kathleen Katz said on October 8, 2013:

    Thanks for this opportunity to learn more about these issues and your stance. I so enjoy and try to use the information each month.

  7. Pingback:The Foley Institute Panel: The Science, Ethics and Politics of GMO’s and Your Food - Organics | Washington State University

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