Challenging Biotech’s Misperceptions

Farmer Gene

BIO is in Chicago for the 2010 BIO International Convention.  Visit this space for updates direct from our food and ag sessions.

Bruce Chassy is a Professor in the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Val Giddings (LVG) interviewed Chassy to get an academic’s perspective on the perceived controversies surrounding biotechnology:

LVG:    Why is there still controversy about ag biotech after all these years?

Chassy:   The science and results are clear:  products of biotechnology are probably safer than any others.  There is no scientific controversy or doubt about the real-world outcomes.  They are all positive, good for consumers, farmers and the environment.

LVG:    Then why do we keep hearing about all the risks of GM crops? 

Chassy:   There is a well-financed and organized global opposition to GM crops that spreads misinformation and fear.   Make no mistake about it, this isn’t a grassroots opposition. It is a small handful of people that profit from higher prices for organic and GM-free foods. They are paid to block GM crops that can benefit certain countries and companies.

LVG:    How can we set the record straight? 

Chassy:   There is nobody credible talking in favor of GM crops.  The industry can’t do it, they have a clear conflict of interest.  It’s not the regulators job – they regulate and stay neutral; USDA and FDA are afraid of being sued by these groups already.  The food industry isn’t going to fight for GM crops, especially when they make more money from organic foods.  Then there are the scientists: they know the truth, but it’s not their job to argue with the NGOs.  They have labs to run, students to teach, grants and papers to write.  So at the end of the day, there is nobody to advocate for an accurate and impartial representation of the facts about GM crops.

LVG:    What can be done about it?

Chassy:   Scientists need to speak out and realize that if someone else distorts the facts it’s their responsibility to set the record straight.  An example – Jeffrey Smith claims he’s an expert on GM safety and has written several books about the dangers.  David Tribe (University of Melbourne) and I analyzed all the arguments Smith makes in his book Genetic Roulette.  Not one of the claims Smith makes withstands scrutiny – I would call it peer review, but Smith isn’t a scientist or a peer.  You can see our work at a website we created to expose scientific hoaxes (http://academicsreview.org).  Eventually, we hope to grow the website to cover many scientific issues about which there is a lot of misinformation.  

*for the full length interview, go to http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/

Giddings is a genetics PhD and  biotech consultant with nearly 30 years regulatory, media, and policy experience.  He was a Vice President for BIO Food & Agriculture from 1997 to 2006. He can be reached at LVG@prometheusAB.com.

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