February 19, 2016

Food Science Prof Defends GMOs as Essential to Food Production

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Prof. Emeritus Joe Regenstein ’66, food science, outlined arguments in defense of creating and using genetically modified organisms in food production before an audience of nearly 50 Cornellians Thursday.

Regenstein presented research in his recently coauthored book, Genetic Modification and Food Quality: A Down To Earth Analysis, which argues that, from a scientific perspective, GMOs pose no problem to food consumption.

Regenstein also stressed that GMOs positively combat new challenges to food production systems.

“As we all think about climate change and population increases, and therefore less land for agriculture, we’re going to have to use more marginal lands, we’re going to have to use crops that do things differently, and we’re going to have to do that rapidly,” Regenstein said.

Regenstein added that GMOs are necessary to the growth of certain crops.

“We also need the ability to deal with certain diseases,” he said. “We’re talking about the possibility that we may no longer have oranges, and we may not have bananas.”

GMOs have led to some preliminary successes, but research must be expanded and the popular rhetoric against GMOs should be rejected, according to Regenstein.

Specifically, Regenstein disputed GMO concerns pertaining to issues such as health or the environment, and in several instances pointed out a lack of any credible peer reviewed research capable of demonstrating the potential risk of GMOs.

Regenstein responded to one of the main critiques to GMOs — which says they are unnatural — by saying “there ain’t nothing natural in most of our food supply.”

To illustrate his point Regenstein cited examples of unnatural phenomena within food production rising from classic breeding patterns and genetic modifications that plants and animals undergo, absent of human interference.

Regenstein also explained the indirect link between fast food restaurant Chipotle’s commitments to GMO-free food and the restaurant’s recent series of contaminations.

“Local farmers have far less resources to throw at things like food safety,” he said. “Chipotle is encouraging these farmers to be GMO free which makes them less efficient.”

However he said he believes the concern about allergies to GMOs allergens is genuinely legitimate and something the scientific community ought to consider.

Regenstein concluded his talk, saying, “GMOs have a lot of positives, but we should keep an eye on the negatives.”