UF/IFAS researchers to testify before Congress about GMOs

Kevin Folta.  UF/IFAS File Photo.

Kevin Folta

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Two UF/IFAS graduate students will advise a congressional committee as lawmakers question them about biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Chris Barbey and Alejandra Abril Guevara, doctoral students in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology, will head to Washington D.C. with UF/IFAS horticultural sciences Professor Kevin Folta to answer questions from the U.S. House Science Committee at a June 25 hearing. Folta said there is no set agenda for the discussions, but he expects the researchers to field many questions relating to the GMO regulatory processes, food labeling and product safety.

“It is great that this committee is consulting with scientists that understand the evidence, and hopefully evidence will help them devise new policy,” Folta said.

Barbey hopes to provide clarification about some of the prevalent myths.

“The safety of GMOs has been established and confirmed again and again. However, there is still substantial distance between the scientific facts and public perception,” he said.

After 18 years, most GMO crop plants are engineered with just two traits, both of which have been around since the 1990s: the BT gene to protect the plant against insect pests and a modified amino acid biosynthesis gene that confers resistance to the herbicide called glyphosate.

“Our knowledge of plant genetics has obviously increased significantly since then,” Barbey said. “We are decades behind where we could be in crop development, because in the current climate, it makes little financial sense for anyone to commercialize these innovations. Decades of publically-funded crop research sits on the shelf.”

Additionally, said Abril Guevara, “We are scientists, but we also are consumers. As scientists, we want to orient the discussion toward the facts and help the public make decisions based on evidence and not on fear.”

Barbey said they are visiting to discuss the scientific strengths and limitations of the technologies and suggest new thinking, given the safety track record of GMOs.

“This is about discussing the science-based strengths and limitations of this technology,” Folta said. “I’m grateful that our students will have a chance to present the current state of the science.”

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Kevin Folta, 352-273-4812, kfolta@ufl.edu