Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Union's Winter Environmental Speaker Series...Continued!

Catch the latest in Union's Environmental Science, Policy and Engineering Winter 2011 Seminar Series:
 “Inside the Controversy on Genetically Modified Food”

Did you hear Ronald Herring of Cornell University speak on “Global Rifts Over Biotechnology: Politics, Science, Political Science”?

Want to find out what he said?

Here's a summary of the talk written by Shabana Hoosein, '11.

Ron Herring is a political scientist who is pro GMO. He started his talk off by explaining that there are two global risks to genetically modified foods. The first risk pertains to the recombinant DNA work in plants. The second risk is the contentious dynamic between supporting and opposing networks. For example, some networks are concerned with the safety of consumption and other networks promote GMOs as the solution to feed the poor. He explains that there is a diffusion of this technology that counterbalances in society. As the amount of GMO crops increase, the amount of transgenic free zones increase as well. I suppose this was his way of letting the audience know that the increase of GM use is acceptable.
Ron continued to explain the outrageous GM myths that affect people (for example: infertility, cancer, abortion, suicides and even homosexuality). He uses these examples to convince the audience that information from the media is not reliable. I can understand the point that he makes on farmer suicides. The makers of “The World According to Monsanto” did not make a very strong point about this topic. It seemed like the film was biased and selective in the scenes referring to farmer suicides. As Herring said, I believe that people in India are strong family supporters and they would not commit suicide because of their farms. It is difficult for me to understand the truth behind his argument because I have not talked to farmers in India. However, his argument about farmer suicides was the strongest part of his talk.
Out of all the gene modifications that are occurring in the world, Herring seemed to like Bt cotton the most. According to his talk, Bt has drastically increased the yield for small farmers. He said the rate of Bt adoption has increased to 98% after 2006. Although he provided great numbers, he didn’t take some things into consideration. Other anti-GM papers have acknowledged the increase in cotton yield since the introduction of Bt cotton. Nonetheless, they also took climatic conditions into consideration. For the past decade, climatic conditions have been great which may be contributing to the positive yield in cotton production. He also mentioned that the rate of adoption has drastically increased. His assumption was that GM use had increased because farmers are buying more GM seeds. However, he did not mention that transgenic crops have also increased due to cross-pollination. In addition, farmers may have thought that these seeds were great in 2006, but they may have changed their minds more recently. Ron did not have any current data in his presentation.
Overall, I believe that Ron Herring was fairly biased. He only showed two sides of the story when the second side helped him prove his point. He was blatantly trying to convince the audience of one idea. However, the audience was smarter than that. My favorite question was: Where is your research funded from?

 So, how do you feel about GMOs?

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