Anti-GMO critics dominate National Academy of Sciences crop biotech evaluation

The first two days of hearings on the latest round of scientific review for biotech crops and genetically engineered foods reflected that the National Research Council is tackling a highly politicized debate about the future role of biotech crops in American agriculture.

An ad-hoc committee of 18 scientists is tasked by the National Research Council with examining the science and ramifications of biotech crops by looking at the history of genetic engineering and the potential the crops and biotech foods hold for the future. Speakers offered the committee a range of views from university professors and non-governmental experts who have battled over biotech crops for decades.

Though the committee is just starting its task, there already is a lot of angst over assuring the report garners public confidence. Dietram Scheufele, a University of Wisconsin science communications professor, told the committee that the report needs to go beyond the science of biotech crops. He noted the highly politicized nature of biotechnology stems from the complex science and lack of overall public understanding of it.

Related article:  Center for Food Safety urges FDA to exclude GMOs from definition of 'natural'

Yet, a great many people have already framed their views and will validate their own opinions regardless of the report’s outcome through the process of “motivated reasoning.” However, the scientific committee would be wise not to ignore social concerns, Scheufele said.

Of the 17 speakers over two days, 12 were critical of crop biotechnology, mostly representing dedicated anti-GMO advocacy organizations, such as the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, ETC Group, Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others.

Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, offered an aggressive defense of biotechnology and lashed out at critics of genetic engineering when he spoke. Entine noted some representatives of consumer groups “invariably only point to one side of the issue” on biotechnology. Entine asked the committee to reject these views and focus on science. He asked the committee to ignore some claims published in what Entine characterized as “one-off studies by pay-to-play journals.”

Read the full, original article: Groups offer scientific panel a range of suggestions to study biotech foods

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