University of Idaho speaker hopes to elevate GMO conversation

North Carolina State University agriculture professor Fred Gould will speak about a National Academy of Sciences study on GMOs at a free University of Idaho event Sept. 18 in Moscow, Idaho.

An upcoming speaker at the University of Idaho plans to share his experiences in compiling a study about the realities of GMOs.

Fred Gould, professor of agriculture at North Carolina State University, served as chairman of a National Academy of Sciences committee that issued a report in 2016 about genetically engineered crops over the past 20 years, and what’s coming in the future. The resulting 600-page report considered health and environmental safety and agricultural impacts.

Gould will summarize the report and explain why “it might be reasonable to trust what we found (and) how we went about collecting all this information,” he told the Capital Press.

Gould will speak alongside journalist and science communicator Cara Santa Maria 6 p.m., Sept. 18, at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow, Idaho, as part of UI’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Speaker Series. The title of the presentation is ‘“What’s For Dinner?: A Guide to Understanding GMOs.” The event is free and open to the public.

“There is a continuing need to communicate the science and what GMOs can offer growers and consumers, and what they can’t,” said Joseph Kuhl, associate professor of plant genetics at UI.

Gould said he hopes to convey to the public how a researcher goes about separating the wheat – useful information – from the chaff, which ranges from “Everything is going to kill you,” to “Without genetic engineering, we can’t feed the world.”

Wheat yields have been increasing steadily based on conventional breeding and improved agronomics. The study compared the yield increase to increases in crops using genetic engineering, such as corn, soybeans and cotton, and didn’t find a big payoff for GMOs.

“If you want to talk to a wheat grower, you can say, ‘You haven’t lost anything in terms of how fast your yields have been rising,’” Gould said.

But wheat farmers may have lost the flexibility that comes with GMOs, he added.

“Technology is changing a lot and my sense is, indeed, in the future, genetic engineering may raise crop yields, but those things haven’t come to fruition in the first 20 years,” he said.

No GMO wheat is currently commercially available, due to low tolerance from customers overseas. Might that change?

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Gould said. “One thing that became pretty apparent: If the consumers saw a real benefit to them, that would change things.”

The committee reviewed more than 80 people for the report, including GMO crop opponents, to hear what they had to bring to the table, Gould said.

“Some of the opponents were all chaff and some of them had some wheat there,” he said.

Some of the useful information included feedback about regulatory approaches and testing for allergies, he said.

Gould said the committee’s goal was to elevate the conversation, so people who are either pro-GMO or con-GMO are able to “not just go with their gut feeling.”

He recommends looking into the studies not conducted by industry.

“If you are concerned about GMOs, there are ways of finding trustworthy information,” he said.

Gould and Santa Maria’s presentations will be followed by a panel discussion with commodity experts, including Idaho Wheat Commission director of research collaboration Cathy Wilson; Simplot Plant Sciences new product marketing and biotech affairs manager Doug Cole, Sr., and American Sugar Beet biotechnology spokeswoman and farmer Elizabeth Bingham.

Gould also presents 3:30 p.m. Sept. 19 on genetically engineered pests as tools for applied entomology, about researchers attempting to genetically suppress or alter characteristics of insect pest populations.

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