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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2005

Video Held Hostage

University of Manitoba professor Stéphane McLachlan and his doctoral student Ian Mauro have asked CAUT for assistance in releasing their research video on genetically modified crops.

Since 2002 the University of Manitoba has effectively blocked the release of "Seeds of Change: Farmers, Biotechnology and the New Face of Agriculture," which looks at the impacts of GM crops on farmers and the environment in western Canada.

The video, developed with funds from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, is part of McLachlan and Mauro’s internationally recognized farmer-focused research on GM crops.

"Release of our research has been systematically blocked by the university administration, our right to academic freedom has been infringed, and we can only wonder if this is largely due to the corporate presence of Monsanto on our campus," McLachlan said.

The video makes extensive use of surveys, interviews and film footage and McLachlan and Mauro worked with local Winnipeg filmmaker Jim Sanders, who helped them shoot and edit interviews with farmers and other groups.

According to McLachlan, the video summarizes both the benefits and risks associated with the use of GM technology and makes a controversial link between the advent of GM crops and rural de- cline. It also looks at the role of the biotech company Monsanto, a leading corporate promoter of GM crops.

"The concerns and experience-based knowledge of farmers are missing from the GM crop debate and our research video aimed to change this," Mauro said. "Unfortunately, we had one problem: the university has prevented and continues to prevent its release."

Prior to the video’s production, the University of Manitoba was home to the only on-campus Monsanto research station in Canada.

McLachlan and Mauro have criticized the corporate-academic partnership and feel their critique surrounding the partnership may have prevented the release of their video.

McLachlan said it wasn’t until the spring of 2005 that "we realized the full extent to which this partnership was undermining our research programme."

At the same time the university was delaying the researchers’ video, it was negotiating with Monsanto to relocate the company’s Canadian corporate headquarters to the university’s industrial research "Smart Park."

A current clause in the faculty collective agreement allows the university 50 per cent control of copyright in the video. In the fall of 2002, university officials expressed concern that the video contained controversial statements about the biotechnology industry and they feared litigation by Monsanto. They also refused to allow release of the video unless McLachlan and Mauro indemnified the university against all lawsuits, claiming the university did not have appropriate insurance coverage to protect against such threats.

"The university’s unwillingness to relinquish its portion of the copyright has derailed the entire project," McLachlan said. "This has been a drawn out, frustrating and damaging experience. The effect of the university’s actions has been to suppress the distribution of our research."