|AgJournal |  Home | Governming GMOs | Feature||May 25, 2013|
Biotech brings veteran back to Vietnam
On February 1, 2001, Shonsey was confronted with another image evoking the Vietnam War era - angry protesters loudly chanting slogans in defiance of Shonsey's new cause. The noise forced Shonsey, the scheduled luncheon speaker at a University of Minnesota conference on genetically modified crops, to deliver his address inside Cowles Auditiorium rather than the atrium where lunch was served in the university's Hubert H. Humphrey Center.
But Shonsey's response was measured. "I served two tours of duty in Vietnam so that people would have the right to say what they think," he said.
Shonsey also has toured fields and laboratories across the United States, South America, Russia, Asia and the Middle East, he noted. His experiences have reinforced his belief in biotechnology as a critical element in meeting the world's future food needs. The number of acres planted to genetically modified crops more than doubled from 1996 to 2000 and such crops have now been planted on six of the earth's seven continents.
If the application of biotechnology to aquaculture becomes widespread, Antarctica, too, may join that list of continents, Shonsey observed.
But the tide of change sweeping the agriculture and food industry can be unnerving, he added. The name of his company has changed three times in recent years, from Northrup King to Novartis to Syngenta. "What once were long-standing business relationships have become as shifting as sand," he said. In addition, "the issues involved in biotechnology cannot be reduced to a simple level."
A group called Upper Midwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering (RAGE) claimed credit for the demonstration. Visit its Web site here.
Labeling only a partial answer
Jim Chen, University of Minnesota law professor, also emphasized the complexity of biotech issues. The labeling of foods as either containing genetically modified material or being free of such is at best only a partial answer to consumer concerns.
Chen drew a distinction between "food safety" and "food satisfaction" issues. Some consumers prefer organically grown food because "they believe in the production process," while orthodox Jews prefer kosher food for religious reasons, he said. Since it has not been proven that either nonorganic or nonkosher food pose a threat to public health, these preferences fall in the realm of "food satisfaction." Voluntary labeling of products under these circumstances makes sense in order to assure consumers that they are getting what they pay for.
If however, there are larger food safety and environmental issues involved in the production of genetically modified crops, even mandatory labeling of these products is not an adequate response. "If there was evidence that these products really are dangerous, then they would have to be taken off the market," Chen said.
May 25, 2013
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