BIO 2010 - Natural vs. Genetically Modified Food: NOT an Either/or Issue

May 10 2010

The blessings that advances in food technology bring to humanity may be mixed, but these advances are not quite the salvation or damnation as some interest groups would have us believe.

While the BIO 2010 luncheon session entitled "When Politics Impedes Progress to Combat Hunger" would appear to favor the salvation range of the spectrum, the moderator and panelists leavened the mix with a pinch of valid issues for concern.

Panelist and co-author of "Tomorrow's Table; Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food" Pamela C. Ronald talked about the benefits of organic gardening (reduces harmful environmental output) as well as the challenges of coping with weeds and pests. She expressed the need to revisit the narrow definition of "organic" to include technologies that, among other benefits, improve soil fertility and improve the lives of poor communities (domestically and globally).

Michael Specter, another panelist and author of "Denialism; How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives," talked about the confusion surrounding the word "organic," cautioning that consumers need to differentiate between what is wholesome food when they go grocery shopping and what is on the label that may be nothing more than words made up by a company's marketing department.

The third panelist, Dr. Margaret Zeigler, is Founder and Deputy Director of the Congressional Hunger Center. She spoke of her experiences in Guatemala and other subsistence places who are gradually adopting genetically-engineered crops to improve both the productivity of their farming nutrition and the local ecology through reduced pesticide use.

Dr. Ziegler expressed regret that some subsistence countries have actually refused to use genetically-engineered crops, influenced by vocal anti-GM groups, thereby condemning their societies to continuing starvation.

Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash, moderator of the panel and Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University agreed with all the panelists that sustainability, not elitism, should be the key farming philosophy, noting that India has experienced positive results such as that demonstrated in Guatemala.

Category: Open to Debate; BioEvent Coverage
Filed under: Food/Nutrition, Genetic Engineering, Organic, Gardening, Ecology