"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," Kirschenmann said.
And yet everyone acknowledged, hostility toward biotech clearly exists, even in the incongruous "non-GMO" label. "To be honest, this has been one of the most depressing times of my career," Goldberg said. "You 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 [hostility] 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."
Goldberg blames corporate organic for the hostility. "I think it's from a 15-year propaganda campaign mis-educating the public and demonizing the technology. It's been extremely successful. 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."
Jaffe allowed the more research may be warranted, but biotechnology needs a fair shake. "I think Fred [Kirschenmann] makes valid points. 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."
Essentially, much of the disagreement boils down to people's approach to science. Says Goldberg, "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."