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The Academic-Industrial Complex: Cornell Ordered to Release Biotech Documents

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Source: ENS

The Academic-Industrial Complex: Cornell Ordered to Release Biotech Documents

ITHACA, New York, November 8, 2002 (ENS) - The New York Supreme Court has ruled that Cornell University must turn over documents about its biotechnology research to a former talk show host who is seeking the material through the state's Freedom of Information law.

A panel of five judges in the New York State Appellate Division Third Department ruled unanimously that Cornell University is subject to the Freedom Of Information Law, and must turn over documents pertaining to its biotech research.

"We still have another round to go, and no one can predict what the final outcome will be, but we're getting closer to the day when we may get a look inside the academic-industrial complex," said Jeremy Alderson, who brought the suit against Cornell.

Alderson, a former public radio talk show host, filed suit in December 2000 against Cornell, its New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.

He asked for a variety of documents, including financial information, corporate contracts and risk assessments on biotech research conducted at the university. He is also seeking information on field tests of genetically engineered crops, and potential tenants of a new agriculture and technology park.

Alderson says he fears that biotechnology research and field tests conducted by Cornell have not undergone stringent risk assessments, and could threaten the local environment, agriculture and public health.

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Cornell's attorneys have argued that Cornell's four contract colleges, including the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Agricultural Experiment Station, are private institutions, not subject to the state's Freedom of Information Law, which provides public access to most public records and meetings.

But Alderson's lawyers say that because the contract colleges receive state funds, they should be covered by the law. So far, New York's courts have agreed.

"Notably, Cornell, the private institution legislatively charged with the operation of the statutory colleges on behalf of SUNY, is authorized to publicly disseminate the results of any scientific investigation or experiments conducted by the Ag station," said Justice Carl Mugglin, who wrote Thursday's court decision.

Cornell officials say they will not release the records to Alderson until all appeals are exhausted.

"Cornell has put out PR saying that they know their work is safe because they've conducted risk assessments," Alderson said. "But when you ask to see them, they say no. Makes you wonder what they're hiding, doesn't it?"

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