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Scientists Must Take Charge of Genetically Modified Food Debate

A while ago, I rallied scientists all over the world to stand up and defend the science behind genetically modified foods. I did this out of concern that anti-technology activists are drowning scientists’ voices regarding the safety of genetically modified foods. I counseled them to take charge of the debate about genetically modified foods or completely cease research in crop genetics. I reasoned that scientific innovations are only worth their salt if they are well marketed to the public.

Sadly, this has not been the case with genetically modified foods. Scientists, for reasons only known to them, have taken a backseat in this debate. Anti-technology activists, most of whom lack the scantiest knowledge of biology, have taken it upon themselves to rubbish crop genetic engineering.

Armed with what I consider “bootleg scientific evidence”, these activists want the world to believe that genetically modified foods are poisonous concoctions. In essence, they seek to challenge crop genetic engineering and its potential applications in agriculture.

As anti-biotech rhetoric fills the air, questions are being asked whether scientists are doing enough to defend their work. They aren’t. Most seem to be at home expressing their thoughts in peer-reviewed journals, and hard-to-decipher textbooks. All these are out of reach of the general public, the critical constituent in the debate about genetically modified foods.

Scientists all over the world, come out in the open and defend your innovations! Those, especially, working in the area of genomics must move from their cocoon of silence and indifference. The current situation where anti-technology activists continue to recklessly mislead the world about genetically modified foods is unacceptable.

Scientists have left the work of defending genetically modified foods to public relations practitioners and marketing agents. These people least understand the science behind genetically modified foods, and shouldn’t be expected to defend it the way scientists would do. Were scientists to shed off their white lab coats and confront anti-technology activists, the debate about genetically modified foods would take a totally different shape.

Perhaps, they can borrow a leaf from Scotland’s new chief scientific adviser, Professor Anne Glover. Since her appointment, Glover has vigorously defended genetically modified foods. Hers has not been the usual balderdash about genetically modified foods. All Prof. Glove’s arguments are well anchored in science.

Speaking to The Sunday Herald recently, Glover heralded genetically modified foods as an effective tool to fight poverty, hunger and toxic pollution.

A molecular biologist from the University of Aberdeen, Glover lamented that the public debate about genetically modified foods has been “really poorly informed.”

She particularly takes issue with the use of “Frankenstein foods” to describe genetically modified foods, warning “… allowing developing new technologies to be hijacked by phrases which are all to do with headline-grabbing and nothing to do with reality.”

Glove’s campaign to streamline the debate about genetically modified foods requires the support of the entire scientific community. The GM debate is crying for dignity, and the only people to instill it are scientists.

About the Author: James Wachai is a communication expert, specializing in agricultural issues, and also authors GMO Africa Blog. On the web at

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