Genes and Chemicals in Agriculture: Value and Risk (BIO 435-435H/535, FS 435-435H/535)
Panel discussions during last two class meeting

The issue of "should we label" comes up time and time again with respect to GE and cloned animal foods. It brings to the fore, and forces us to integrate, many of the science and social issues discussed in this class. People mostly want labels if asked, though most don't read or understand them, and the tracking that goes into labeling (not the printing cost) can be quite high, depending on how strict it is. Thus it can impose significant costs on consumers, for which the poorest will suffer most. Though perhaps intended to inform, labels about esoteric things that are not truly dangerous also can scare and mislead consumers about safety vs. benefit. Thus, many companies will choose not to include ingredients, even if beneficial to consumers and economics, if they might scare consumers. Consumer choice can therefore be reduced, not expanded.

Likewise, the issue of "should we ban" or regulate a common and unregulated chemical forces us to reckon with all the scientific uncertainties, biases in arguments and viewpoints, and the benefits as well as costs to society for discontinued or greatly restricted use. It also forces us to consider the alternatives that would be used if use is restricted or stopped, for which there may be less knowledge of its effects.

You will be asked to take on a role, or will be assigned a role, on a panel that is presenting expert testimony on government policy on GE and cloned foods, or alternatively on whether to ban/regulate the chemicals in question. First come first served, so let us know your preference for which panel and which role, as soon as you can (you only need to do one in one of the two sessions; email Strauss please). You can also suggest another role if you don't like what is given below.

Unless otherwise arranged, your role will be either as a:

  1. Left or right leaning journalist from an activist radio show
  2. Public relations officer of a multinational biotechnology company or trade group that markets cloned animals or GE crops
  3. Public relations officer from a company or trade group that makes bspA containing products
  4. Left or right leaning journalist from a credible media outlet (e.g., NY Times) who must show scientific discrimination and balance
  5. Scientist working at EPA or FDA, who must act politically as well as scientifically
  6. Biotechnologist or toxicologist working at a university
  7. Representative of an NGO with a strong anti-biotechnology and anti-chemical stance
  8. Beef/pig farmer that would like to use and market cloned animals
  9. Producer of bspA-free bottles that wants to take advantage of public concern/fear
  10. Agribusiness farmer that grows insect tolerant Bt-corn and Roundup-Ready soy
  11. Small farmer that grows virus-resistant papaya for the fresh market
  12. Left or right leaning lawyer who wishes to use legal tools to advance their causes (national environmental policy act NEPA, TSCA, Food Safety and Protection Act, etc)

You will be asked to testify, where you provocatively (have some fun) and/or soundly (be the all-knowing expert) present your view of the key issues that the government should consider before making a decision. Whatever your viewpoint, use a logical and science informed argument that shows you understand the key issues (even if in your role you choose to "bend" them). Please aim for two to three minutes for your oral remarks.

You may read from a prepared transcript (does not need to be word for word), or use powerpoint slides; either way, please hand in a printed version of your remarks that can be understood on their own at the time of your presentation (required length given in class web page on grading). If you use ppt, be sure to send the ppt slide presentation to Strauss via email by 4 PM the day before the panel discussion so we can have it on the computer, ready for you to show.

You will also be expected to cross-examine other panel members, so have at least one question ready for another panel member, preferably one directed at a member whose views are contrary to yours. Depending on time, there may be a small debate/discussion.

The issues you may wish to consider in your testimony and questions include: