Panelists from CSU discuss safety of GMO consumption

Matthew Bailey

A moderator and a group of four panelists from a range of Colorado State University departments came together Thursday night to discuss one question in front of an audience in the Lory Student Theater: is genetically modified food safe for human consumption?

The panel included input from moderator Matthew Wallenstein from the natural resource ecology laboratory, Susan Doe from the English department, Garry Auld from the food science and human nutrition department, and Scott Haley and Pat Byrne from the soil and crop sciences department.

Ad

Prior to an hour-long panel discussion and Q&A, the audience watched the 2017 documentary “Food Evolution.”

The film first focuses on the rainbow papaya industry in Hawaii that was depleted by a virus, but was revitalized after scientists developed a genetically modified rainbow papaya that was resistant to the virus.

In a similar situation involving the Ugandan banana industry, genetically modified disease-resistant banana trees are banned by the government which refuses to review GMO statistics. Because of this ban, Uganda is threatened by famine.

The film explains how GMO opponents widely use scare tactics to make people believe GMOs are harmful instead of using scientific evidence to support their claims.

“I was struck by a number of different things in the movie from the people who were totally off base compared to the people who investigated, who looked at the science and came around and changed their viewpoint on the technology,” Haley said.

The panelists used their discussion time to give their opinions of the film, explain more about what GMOs are and take audience questions.
“I don’t like the way that it kind of reinforced this idea that you can only have one of two opinions,” Dr. Byrne said. “You can either be enthusiastically in favor, or you can be vehemently opposed. I really think there’s a lot of middle ground.”

Doe, the only panelist who was not from a science department, gave brief insight on her early years growing up in Illinois where she detasseled corn as a teenager.

“This was in the 1970s when many small-scale farmers were giving way to large-scale agricultural production and the problems associated with overproduction and pesticide use which culminated in tremendous injury to the soil itself and my state,” Doe said.

Doe explained that as the topsoil from overproduction blew away with time, there was never a push towards sustainable food production processes. She currently wonders about corporation involvement in restorative processes not just to land, but to actual people like the Ugandan banana farmers.

Panelists, specifically Haley and Auld, argued with each other during the panel over different topics, including soil health, agricultural land use and bee pesticides.

Ad

The GMO panel discussion and “Food Evolution” film screening was meant to evoke discussion about genetically modified food and enlighten audience members about the specifics of the situation, according to Wallenstein.

“What’s going through my head is that we really need a series of conversations and to dig through all these important issues,” Wallenstein said. “It’s hard to even touch the surface on a lot of them.”

Collegian reporter Matt Bailey can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @matnes1999.