Food Fight!

“GMOs: All Facts, No Fiction” set for Nov. 4 at UC Riverside

UCR GMO Panel Discussion poster

UCR GMO Panel Discussion poster

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — A free panel discussion featuring leading scientists from UC Riverside and UC Davis will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4 at the UCR Extension Center, 1200 University Ave. Parking is free.

Moderated by Greg Jaffe of the Washington D.C. –based Center for Science in the Public Interest, this discussion is designed to illuminate and dissect one of the most controversial food issues of the modern era. This is part of the Global Food Initiative of the University of California.

“In the past few years, the debate around genetically modified foods has become more polarized than ever,” said Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center.

“Are GMOs safe to eat?  Do they increase or decrease pesticide use?  Can they be used sustainably? Should there be mandatory labeling? What role will they play in future agriculture here in the US as well as in developing countries?,” Jaffe asked. “The audience will encounter a civilized discussion between differing perspectives, something that has become all too uncommon with GMOs.”

Panel members are Alan McHughen, a cooperative extension specialist and geneticist from UC Riverside; Norm Ellstrand, professor genetics at UC Riverside; Belinda Martineau, senior writer for the Institute for Social Sciences at UC Davis; and Josette Lewis, associate director of the UC Davis World Food Center.

The same panel discussion will take place Tuesday, Nov. 3 at UC Davis.

“These are all respected scientists, who come at the issue of GMO foods from somewhat different perspectives,” said Jaffe. “We think it will make for a lively discussion.”

This is the first subject of what could be an annual series with the theme “Healthy Students, Healthy Campus, Healthy Community.” It was organized by the Global Food committee of UC Riverside.

Norm Ellstrand studies plant population genetics and is one of the country’s foremost experts on plant gene flow, the movement of genes from one organism to another. His research has involved the study of the possibility of escape of genes from genetically engineered crops into their wild relatives as well as the potential consequences of that escape. He earned a B.S. in biology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research interest in plant evolutionary genetics started with his dissertation work at the University of Texas at Austin where he received his Ph.D. in 1978. He is the author of the book, “Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives.” He is leading the effort to develop the California Agriculture and Food Enterprise (CAFÉ) at UC Riverside.

Josette Lewis came to the World Food Center after a distinguished career advancing agricultural innovation in both the private and public sectors. Josette spent 16 years at the U.S. Agency for International Development working in international research and development, then as senior biotechnology adviser and finally as director of the Office of Agriculture, where she played a lead role in developing the Obama administration’s global hunger and food security efforts. She holds a bachelor degree in genetics from the University of California, Davis and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from UCLA.

Alan McHughen is a public sector educator, scientist and consumer advocate. A molecular geneticist with an interest in crop improvement and environmental sustainability, he helped develop US and Canadian regulations governing the safety of genetically engineered crops and foods. His book, “Pandora’s Picnic Basket; The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods,” uses understandable, consumer-friendly language to explode the myths and explore the genuine risks of genetic modification (GM) technology.

Belinda Martineau earned her B.A. in Biology at Harvard, her Ph.D. in Genetics at UC Berkeley and carried out two years of post-doctoral research at the University of Chicago. She is an inventor on multiple patents involving recombinant DNA technology, a preparer of safety documents submitted to the US FDA to gain approval of the world’s first commercially available genetically engineered whole food, and author of dozens of articles on plant science (peer-reviewed and otherwise) and a book: “First Fruit: The Creation of the Flavr SavrTM Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Food.”. Dr. Martineau is currently a writer, of grants at the Institute for Social Sciences at UC Davis and independently.

Gregory Jaffe is the Director of the Project on Biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (“CSPI”), a non-profit consumer organization located in the United States. He is an attorney who has worked as senior counsel with the U.S. EPA, Air Enforcement Division. He is a recognized international expert on agricultural biotechnology and biosafety and has published numerous articles and reports on those topics. Jaffe earned his BA with High Honors from Wesleyan University in Biology and Government and then received a law degree from Harvard Law School.

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