Genetic Modification, a Hot Topic at Food Dialogues: Part Two

Amid the enormous Chicago-based BIO convention, USFRA gathers stakeholders to talk about GM crops and labeling.

Published on: Apr 24, 2013

As an estimated 20,000 people descended upon Chicago for the annual BIO convention Monday, assembling to discuss all facets of biotechnology and industry, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance held another of their ongoing panel discussions, known as the Food Dialogues.

Called "The Straight Story on Biotech in Agriculture," the goal of this panel was to talk about how media covers agricultural biotechnology. Moderated by CNBC senior analyst Ron Insana, the panel also included Dr. Bob Goldberg, UCLA plant molecular biologist; Emily Anthes, science journalist and author; Jerry Slocum, Mississippi soybean farmer; Melinda Hemmelgarn, registered dietician and radio host; Mike Olson, radio host; Pam Johnson, Iowa corn farmer; Steve Smith, head of RoldGold tomatoes and chair of saveourcrops.org.

Jerry Slocum (speaking) and Ron Insana share ideas at the Food Dialogues Chicago event, April 22.
Jerry Slocum (speaking) and Ron Insana share ideas at the Food Dialogues Chicago event, April 22.

Catch up on the full story at Genetic Modification, a Hot Topic at Food Dialogues: Part One.

Panel participants covered GM foods and cropping practices, but when discussion turned to labeling GM foods, Mike Olson referred back to the vote in California against labeling GMOs as "Wounded Knee," saying that the industry's $46 million onslaught against the measure revealed the "ineptitude" of those who campaigned in support of labeling.

Emily Anthes, however, didn't believe the labeling measures that have been brought forth so far have been about transparency - which she believes in. "The campaigns haven't been about transparency, they've been about fear. It's also not clear to me that GMOs are all that hard to avoid if that's important to you."

The Food Dialogues Chicago panel participants share ideas April 22.
The Food Dialogues Chicago panel participants share ideas April 22.

Melinda Hemmelgarn added it was important to label because not all types of food have a variety of choice, such as infant formula.

Indeed, for years many within and outside agriculture have argued that consumers might be more accepting of GM crops if they had a benefit to consumers, as Olson asserted again during the panel.

Bob Goldberg agreed, but added that such products are in development and their introduction has been hindered by anti-GM hysteria.

"We have vitamin A rice that's been in development for 10 years and many studies show it's safe. It hasn't gotten out because of regulatory burden and pushback," he explained. He went on to question why there's so much regulation regarding genetic engineering of something, for example, like a hypoallergenic peanut, yet traditional plant breeders can breed a peanut protein into a crop and bring it onto the market with no regulatory oversight.

Bob Goldberg, Emily Anthes (speaking) and Jerry Slocum discuss GM food labeling at the Food Dialogues Chicago Event, April 22.
Bob Goldberg, Emily Anthes (speaking) and Jerry Slocum discuss GM food labeling at the Food Dialogues Chicago Event, April 22.

"If I created a hypoallergenic peanut in my lab that has not one ounce of that protein, I'd have to go through regulatory hurdles that cost 100 million dollars. So it will never get out there," Goldberg explains. "There have been GM hypoallergenic peanuts that will never get out because of pushback."

"But we don't know the unintended consequences of the genetic engineering," Hemmelgarn said, in what became one of the most heated exchanges of the discussion.

"But we do know that for the most part, genes function in very predictable ways. And we can use good science to test them," Goldberg argued.

"We can't possibly anticipate all of the unintended consequences," Hemmelgarn continued.

"Then do you just throw up your hands and say, 'don't do any science'?" Goldberg fired back.

For more on the Food Dialogues or to watch the panel discussion, check out www.fooddialogues.com, or catch up on previous Food Dialogues events by clicking the links below.

Genetic Modification, a Hot Topic at Food Dialogues: Part One

Food Dialogues: Perceptions, Reality, Media And Marketing

Agriculture And Entertainment Talk About Food