Wednesday, 8 October 2008: 9:45 AM
George R. Brown Convention Center, 371E
Public sector scientists must play a role in the debate over genetically engineered crops and foods. In California, we have had numerous opportunities. In the late 1980’s, issues were raised over field testing of the ice-minus bacterium. More recently were county-based ballot measures banning the growth and propagation of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). Wording in some ordinances was scientifically inaccurate, e.g., defining DNA as a protein. Proponents and opponents frequently made scientifically unsupportable claims that were frightening to voters. The often heated debate became a standoff between two polarized camps. This educational opportunity seemed ideal for Cooperative Extension, but required careful thought on exactly how to become involved. Certainly our role was not to endorse or oppose the ordinances, but to provide objective, science-based information, allowing voters to make informed decisions. These efforts were varied. An award wining website, http://ucbiotech.org , was developed that features a “Resources” section containing all of the educational materials developed. These include 15 peer-reviewed fact sheets on topics ranging from pollen flow, intellectual property, coexistence of agricultural systems and animal biotechnology. Two educational displays were also developed and made available for loan, covering genetics and food and genetic diversity. Both have been used extensively at various venues, like county fairs, teacher workshops, student classrooms and gardening clubs. Two peer-reviewed educational videos were completed. “Genetic Engineering in California Agriculture” which explains the science behind genetic engineering, outlines its uses in crops and animals, details where and why it is being used in agriculture, and examines some science-based concerns. The second video entitled “Cornucopia’s Challenge” focuses on issues farmers face in growing, segregating, and marketing three crops; corn, rice and cotton, and how producers meet differing market requirements and consumer preferences. These resources could be useful to others faced with similar situations.