March 5th, 2013 The Future of Food - A talk at the Museum of Natural History

On March 6th, 2013, OLC attended the Future of Food - A talk at the Museum of Natural History Event. The American Museum of Natural History gathered experts from various fields to talk about the “Future of Food,” as genetically modified crops or organisms (GMOs) or food by any other means not naturally occurring have become one of the most contested issues of our time.

Frederick Kaufman, author of “Bet the Farm,” moderated the groundbreaking talk with plant geneticist Paul Gepts, ethicist Paul Wolpe and intellectual property lawyer Rochelle Dreyfuss. The talk was in conjunction with the museum’s one-of-a-kind exhibit, “Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture.”

Everyone in the panel was in agreement about two things: the need for further evaluation of our genetic engineering of crops and animals (i.e., “modern biotechnology,” “gene technology”) as well as what many of the audience liked to hear, the labeling of GMOs in our foods.

But trying to cover as much ground as possible in one hour proved to be a daunting task, as the panel veered in different directions as the topics or subtopics--depending on who was speaking--overlapped.

The guest speakers took their turn answering questions about the hidden forces that shape what we eat; the legal and ethic implications at play; how biotechnology could affect our food systems; “patenting” nature, and if genetically modified foods is the answer or the problem.

Says Gepts: “Meats may be derived from animals that were fed genetically engineered crops, such as corn, but the animals themselves may not be genetically engineered.”

Dairy products, on the other hand, may reportedly use bovine growth hormone to increase lactation by dairy cows or use genetically engineered rennet to produce cheese. There are snack foods that are said to contain or are derived from corn, cotton, soybean or canola.

Gepts says most fruits and vegetables are not genetically engineered, except for papayas where production in Hawaii is said to be partly genetically engineered to resist a plant virus.

Wolpe raised the issue of the creation of diseases and other health concerns with genetic modifications. Using an extreme example, he points out how combining peanuts with tomatoes can cause a problem if, say, one is allergic to one or the other.

Says Gepts: “Current genetically engineered crops could be improved by a stronger regulatory process based on improved testing protocols.”

The talk presented itself as a prelude to a wide-ranging issue that could bring in more personalities to the table--food experts, lawyers, ethicists, environmentalists, lawyers and various food companies.

Kaufman intimated the “wall” between food activists and scientists and what Dreyfuss thinks will make her act as a mediator when all the fears, misunderstandings and the complexity of the issue at hand breed all sorts of reactions.