NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Investment In Plant Research Outweighs Government Spending

May 15, 2001

Private agricultural research spending surpassed public spending in the U.S. in the early 1980s -- and the gap has widened. By 1994, two-thirds of American plant breeding was being done in the private sector, according to an Iowa State University survey.

While critics charge patent restrictions are choking the free exchange of seeds and technology that nourished the public system, many experts contend the private sector influx has brought with it new technology and increased research spending. "Nobody was investing any serious money in improving soybeans until there was intellectual property protection," says Tony Cavalieri, a vice president at the seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

  • The shift from public to private research was spurred by court and patent office decisions in the 1980s that allowed plant varieties and genes to be patented -- allowing companies to more easily recoup their investments.
  • With the advent of biotechnology, advanced research now requires tools that some public institutes cannot afford -- like gene databases.
  • In industrialized countries, public spending has been growing at 1.8 percent a year and private spending at 5 percent, according to Philip G. Pardey at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture's research budget stands at $2 billion a year -- and has barely grown in real terms over two decades.

Source: Andrew Pollack, "The Green Revolution Yields to the Bottom Line," New York Times, May 15, 2001.


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