Free Debate Over the Use of Genetically Modified Organisms in Food

Posted on May 16 by SEASONS Magazine

Courtesy of UCSB Arts & Lectures

Courtesy of UCSB Arts & Lectures

On Wednesday, May 20, Dr. Pamela Ronald and Dr. Angelika Hilbeck will debate the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. Moderating the event is Paul Voosen, a senior reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The use of GMOs, a key factor in discussions about how best to feed the world’s growing population and address global environmental challenges, remains a contested and often misunderstood topic. A subject of increasing controversy and misunderstanding, GMOs are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a lab through genetic engineering. Scientists have long been working to alter the genes of crops to boost food production and make them more resistant to harsh conditions. Some scientists believe that GMOs are essential to feeding the growing population and are safe to eat, while others argue there is no scientific consensus on the long-term safety of GMOs. Questions of the safety, ethics and practicality of GMOs will be debated by Dr. Ronald and Dr. Hilbeck.

Dr. Pamela Ronald is the director of the Laboratory for Crop Genetics Innovation at the University of California, Davis. A professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center, Dr. Ronald also serves as Director of Grass Genetics at the Joint Bioenergy Institute. Her laboratory has engineered rice for resistance to disease and tolerance to flooding, which seriously threaten rice crops in both Asia and Africa. She and her colleges were recipients of the USDA 2008 National Research Initiative Discovery Award for their work on rice submergence tolerance. Dr. Ronald has written opinion pieces for The Boston Globe, The Economist, The Boston Review and The New York Times and also is a blogger for Scientific American’s “Food Matters” blog.

Dr. Angelika Hilbeck is a senior scientific researcher in the Institute of Integrative Biology at the Swiss Federal University. Co-founder of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, Dr. Hilbeck focuses on ecology and biodiversity, including sustainable farming practices and insect-plant interactions. Her recent work is centered around biosafety issues of GMOs and the development of concepts for environmental risk assessment and post-release monitoring of GMOs. Involved in numerous research and capacity-building projects in Africa, South America and Vietnam, her research and conceptual work have contributed to the implementation and shaping of the UNEP Cartagena Protocol on biosafety.

The moderator, Paul Voosen has had stories appear in National Geographic, Scientific American and GreenWire, with reprints in The New York Times. Called “one of the top journalists working today” by Andrew Revkin of The New York TImes, Voosen is a graduate of the M.A. science journalism program at Columbia university. He has done graduate-level work in geoscience and nuclear physics and is the recipient of the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism from the American Geophysical Union.

This debate is presented by the College of Letters & Science at UC Santa Barbara and made possible by an endowment from the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, dedicated to achieving positive social change. Co-presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures and the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center as part of its event series The Anthropocene: Views from the Humanities. The event takes place on May 20 at 8 p.m. at UCSB Campbell Hall and admission is free. For more information click here or call 805/893-3535.

—Haley Kulik

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