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GMO concerns debated

By Jennifer SekyiSPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE

Genetically modified crops are an unsolved issue that raises both health and technological concerns. On one hand, they support innovation. On the other, they pose as a health risk.

Hofstra explored this issues by holding a debate called “Genetically Modified Crops: Moving into the Modern Future of Science and Technology, or Setting Citizens Up For More Health Issues?” This was held in collaboration with the Sustainability Studies and Department of Rhetoric in the Cultural Center Theater last Thursday.

Genetic modification, or genetic engineering, is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology.

Although the debate didn’t end with a majority of people siding either in favor of or in opposition against stronger regulations, students were definitely engaged in the topic of discussion.

“I thought the debate was very spirited and there were good arguments on both sides,“ said Ashlyn Grisetti, a junior political science major. “I think it’s interesting that they said the biggest thing is fear, because we don’t know what’s going into our food.”

Panelists included Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union, and Bhavani Jaroff, a self-proclaimed “natural foods chef, educator, radio host and food activist,” according to the website for her foundation, iEat Green. Hansen and Jaroff were in support of stronger regulations against genetically modified crops.

On the team against stronger regulations were Dr. Kevin Folta, interim chair and associate professor in the University of Florida’s department of horticultural sciences, and Dr. Gregory Dolin, associate professor of law and co-director at the University of Baltimore’s Center for Medicine and the Law.

The debate opened with the issue of why the U.S. needs stronger regulations on genetically engineered crops. The panelists spoke about whether GMO products should come with labels and why people are opposed to GMO products.

“The reason you need GE (Genetically Engineered) labels is because if there were to be any problems, it’s the only way you can know where [the genetic modifications] came from. People are concerned about new technology. They remember in the past when they were told it was safe, and it wasn’t. That’s why we need safety assessments,” Hansen said.

Jaroff believes that the fear of labeling GMO products comes from the biotin and food manufacturing companies.

“They’re afraid that when the word gets out and people know about GMO products and they have a choice to purchase a product that’s labeled GMO or not, they’re going to buy the one that’s not. All of the companies will need to remanufacture their products GMO free,” Jaroff said.

Folta, however, disagreed, saying that he supports less GMO regulation.

“By having stifling, crippling regulations, we slow innovation. We slow the spread of new products. We slow the spread of technology,” Folta said. “In the last seventeen years these products have been used, there has not been one confirmed case of any illness or any problems associated with [GMO products] in respect to health.”

Jared Garfinkel, a senior sustainability studies major, said that he had learned new information from the event.

“They explained a lot of methods and tools I haven’t heard of before. It shows the complexity of science when it comes to genetic engineering. I would attend something like this again in the future,” Garfinkel said.

To close the debate, Dolin ended with a message for audience members to think about: “Do you want the government that cannot run a website to regulate – in greater detail – your food? I doubt it.”

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