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Cornell Ordered to Release Biotech Documents

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

"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.

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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