Live from the Food Dialogues: Panel 3

My Generation

We've talked media, marketing, healthy choices, and antibiotics. Now? Genetically modified food.

Published on: November 15, 2012

And now, Panel 3: biotechnology and food, moderated by CNN's Ali Velshi. Panelists include: Bob Goldberg, plant molecular biologist at UCLA; Julie Howard, chief scientist, USAID; Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology director, Center for the Science in the PUblic Interest; Fred Kirschenmann, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State; Cheryl Rogowski, New York organic farmer; Jerry Slocum, Mississippi soybean farmer.

2:20 p.m. ET

Fred: "Questions have been raised for some time; Joe Lewis at USDA is one, decades of experience in pest management and published study, based on experience know single tactic therapeutic intervention doesn't work. If you get rid of pest with one chemical, you kill target pest and some of the other biological organisms, which causes pest resurgence. Need to move to natural systems management.  Ask, why is a pest a pest? How can you redesign the system?"

Cheryl: "People like buying produce with me because they can have a conversation with me. Come straight from farm to table and telling them what I did and did not do on the farm. What I used, where my seeds come from and what I did on my farm. Had two people come in this afternoon and want guarantee that it was not GM sweet corn. Not knowingly have any GM on my farm."

Bob: "There's not one thing in the store that's not been engineered at some point in history. When I look at it as someone who works with genes, a gene is a gene is a gene."

Ali: why the hostility?

Bob: "To be honest, this has been one of the most depressing times of my career. Have to separate fact and emotion. People think some large company is going to take over the food system. When you separate science from globalization and anti-corporate issues, the science is perfectly safe. We live in the most exciting time for agriculture, by far. We have a really large supply of food. I think a lot of it is coming from the organic industry, and from corporate organic like Whole Foods, which has just been pounding people with anti-GM. We need to have conversations."

2:40 p.m. ET

Twitter question to Ali: "are your socks genetically modified?"

Laughter ensues.

Bob: "Actually, they probably are - GM cotton!"

More laughter, applause, cheers.

2:45 p.m. ET

Fred: "I am not per say against GM crops, just want people to think about how it works. I prefer the term transgenic because you're really transcending normal gene activity. And we're seeing a lot of unintended consequences."

Question: Is a nonGMO label negative about GM? Does it give a health glow to products labeled as such?

{Most agree, yes. Seedless watermelon – needs to be labeled, because that's a benefit. }

Ali: is seedless watermelon genetically modified?

{Consensus: yes!}

Ali: "Well, I know where I come down on this!"

Bob: "You look at the outcome using the best possible science you can. In last panel, if antibiotics came on the market now, I'm not sure it would be approved, because there are millions of people who are allergic or sensitive to them. The point is you mitigate the benefits and the risks. And I say respectfully to you, Cheryl, what we are doing in our lab is making a more sustainable world. You can't grow plants without protecting them from these things. There are naturally occurring ways to make plants resistant to all the things that attack them. And if we can use technology in that way, we can hopefully make it so we don't have to spray something on it, at some point."

Question: does the bt in corn plants been tested adequately?

Bob: "The answer is yes. A lot of feeding studies with that grain ground and fed to animals, with the protein fed to animals. Study follows how the protein passes through the body, all the way, and there's extensive research on that. "

2:55 p.m. ET

Cheryl: {general concern about cross contamination}

Bob: "There's absolutely no safety problem with these crops. In fact, some of the safest ever, given the amount of testing that's been done. From a 15 year propaganda campaign mis-educating the public and demonize the technology. It's been extremely successful. It's been from the organic corporations, if you'll pardon me, Cheryl. To say, we don't know whether these are safe or not but we don't put them in our stores, so you don't have to worry about it – that's been a very well received message."

Jerry: "GMO foods are safe. We know that. We may not be as smart as you all on the East or West coast, but we know this is safe. In Coldwater, MS, people are not picketing GM food at the grocery store."

Cheryl: "It comes down to the distance food is traveling, the soil where it's being grown. If you don't have the proper nutrients in the soil you won't have it in the food."

Ali: it seems you are less concerned with GM and more concerned with the way in which the land is cared for and how the farming is conducted?

Cheryl: {hesitates} "Yes."

Greg: "We can't speak in generalities about this. There are allergens and the international community has come up with tests. I think there are allergens and we need to look. If there's potential for a risky food, it shouldn’t enter the food supply. From the regulatory side, we don't have sufficient check at FDA for these foods beforehand. For more consumer confidence, I think FDA needs to get a little more skin in the game."

3:25 p.m. ET

Fred: "We don’t know what we don't know. We have to test all the negatives, and like tobacco, that may take 30 or 40 years. "

Question: taste is gone?

Bob: "I agree. Farmers have bred for tomatoes that are nice and red and ripen at the same time. But they traded out the sugar gene. We know what that gene is and we could reintroduce it into the tomato.

Greg: "In the US we grow a lot of genetically modified corn. Also soybeans, alfalfa, cotton and sugar beets. Small amount of squash and papaya. So most of the sweet corn, if you buy a can of sweet corn,

If you're talking taste, I don't know any of us could tell between the taste of GM HFCS and regular HFCS."

Cheryl: "People aren't concerned about lettuce and other vegetables, it's mostly corn. They want to know it's non-GMO."

Question: unintended consequences – what if you had a registered independence of foods?

Cheryl: "They're more concerned that it's grown by me, following organic principles. I'm not certified organic; I'm certified naturally grown."

Jerry: "I don't see a benefit to the consumer. We agree the products are safe. That they don't need to be separated. Organic is a process-based certification system. We don't test foods as organic. I don't see the need for that extra layer of labeling and identification. If they are concerned about genetically modified crops, they can buy certified organic."

3:32 p.m. ET

Greg: "I think Fred makes valid points {that we need more research}. There are some foods we eat that are dangerous to some people, but we still eat them. All kinds of agricultural practices are harmful, and we have to work on that. But there's a double standard for genetically modified – they want to treat it differently than other kinds of research – and stop it from moving forward."

Fred: "I'm not saying we should stop the technology. Just want to put it in a broader context. We need to keep all the options on the table. We often in our culture say the urban agriculture is negligible. But it will provide resource in nutrient poor communities. One of the things that nature has a very clear record of ability is its capacity for natural selection. Ultimately nature will decide what works for us."

Bob: "The problem is that agriculture isn't natural. It's not a real ecological system. And we do have to look at the system as a whole, and we do in our lab. The prospects for the future are just enormously exciting. Looking genomes and the possibilities – agriculture is at the same place."

 

Ali: I'm going to go plant something! What should I plant?
Cheryl: "Lettuce."

Ali: "Ok, I'm going to go get some lettuce…seed?"

Cheryl: "Yes!"