WASHINGTON, April 6, 2016 - The overwhelming scientific evidence shows that genetically modified food is safe, panelists who addressed the issue at a recent Washington, D.C., forum agreed.

The consensus was not surprising, given that the event – “Lost in Translation: Is Science Explained fairly in the Media?” – was sponsored in part by gmoanswers.com, a website run by the public relations firm Ketchum with funding from the biotechnology industry. (Friends of the Earth criticized the makeup of the panel before the event, saying that “a balanced perspective may be what’s lost in translation.”)

The speakers included journalists who have covered health and science issues, as well as well-known scientists such as climate change expert and Columbia University professor James Hansen and immunologist Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The strongest voice on GMO’s was that of Nina Fedoroff, molecular biologist and former science adviser to secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Fedoroff also is senior science adviser to law firm and lobby shop OFW Law, which calls itself “the nation’s premier FDA, USDA, and health care law firm.”

“Our civilization depends on our ability to grow more food than we consume,” Fedoroff said. “We are now reaching, really, the limits of what we can do. Intensification of the agriculture we already have, much of it through genetic modification, is really one of the major tools that we have to continue to meet the food needs of the world.”

Fedoroff said there is a danger, however, that genetic engineering will at some point become so vilified that “we will have lost one of the best tools we’ve ever developed” to feed the world’s growing population.

She said that when communicating with people who disagree with her, she tries to offer them information that they may not know. “I don’t have the skills of the marketer or a manipulator to change people’s belief systems,” she said. “We have nothing but the weight of the evidence to deal with.”

She slammed the organic food industry for supporting GMO labeling in what she said was “a deliberate attempt to build market share by vilifying genetically modified foods.”

If GM technology is abandoned or cut back severely, however, the organic industry will suffer because organic food will lose the price advantage over conventionally grown food that it currently enjoys. “Undercutting our farmers is a disastrous thing to do,” she said.

Genetic engineering also came up in the context of fighting the Zika virus. Fedoroff touted its use to insert a gene into mosquitoes carrying the virus that would be lethal to its offspring.

Fauci had said he did not think such an approach would work on a large scale because mosquitoes’ range is limited to a couple hundred yards, but Fedoroff said, “What we forget is that we’re doing that with insecticides (but) not very effectively. It’s time to try a biological approach.”

Hansen, perhaps the best known climate change scientist in the world, and one who has issued ever-more urgent warnings about the consequences of a warming world, expressed frustration with both the liberal and conservative sides of the political spectrum.

What I find particularly frustrating and tragic is the fact that policy actions to deal with (climate change) actually make sense for other reasons,” he said. “It actually makes economic sense to make the price of fossil fuels honest by considering social costs. It actually will spur the economy and move you to modernize your energy infrastructure.


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