Illinois to host symposium on understanding anti-GE critique

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The University of Illinois Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program (ASAP) will host a special symposium entitled "Understanding and Addressing the Anti-GE Critique" on Earth Day, Thursday, April 25, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Illini Union.

"This year we decided our annual Earth Day event would attempt to answer students' questions about genetically engineered plants. Inquiring minds want to know what all the fuss is about," said Michelle Wander, symposium organizer, ASAP director, and professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

"Some believe GE plants are essential contributors to sustainable agriculture, enabling huge gains in productivity and efficiency by preventing pest problems and alleviating the need to treat them; others see GE as a technology that concentrates control of agriculture and reduces consumer choice, making us use more resources to achieve diminishing returns. We recognize that this is a complex subject and hope many views are shared," Wander said.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is not required but is encouraged. To register, visit http://asap2013.eventbrite.com.

Presentations will be given by four speakers followed by a panel.

The schedule for the afternoon is as follows:

11 to 11:25 a.m.
- Doug Gurian-Sherman, Beyond the hype: What have we learned from 17 years of agricultural genetic engineering

Gurian-Sherman is a senior scientist in the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) where he focuses on agricultural biotechnology and sustainable agriculture. He will provide an evaluation of the current role of GMOs in US agriculture, and discuss why they are not, on balance, improving sustainability.

He is the author of numerous papers and reports, including: No Sure Fix: Prospects for Reducing Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollution through Genetic Engineering; Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops; and CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Gurian-Sherman formerly served as senior scientist at the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., was founding co-director and science director for the biotechnology project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where he was responsible for assessing human health and environmental risks from transgenic plants and microorganisms and developing biotechnology policy.

11:30 to 11:55 a.m. - Mike Gray, Lessons from the past ignored: Western corn rootworms and resistance to Bt

Gray is a U of I professor in the Department of Crop Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and assistant dean for the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Program. Gray will discuss some of the unintended consequences of GE crops and provide his recommendations for how to move forward to best take advantage of molecular tools to secure sustainable production.

His research and extension interests have revolved around the management of the western corn rootworm, especially its adaptation to crop rotation. Gray is frequently invited to discuss integrated pest management (IPM) issues on regional and national levels related to corn and soybean insect management.

In 2008, he began serving as a program leader in the Energy and BioSciences (EBI) Institute at the University of Illinois. His EBI team is focused on discovering pests that influence the biomass production of perennial grasses such as switchgrass and Miscanthus that may be used as feedstocks for biofuels in the future.

12 to 12:25 p.m. - Mary-Howell Martens, Why organic farmers don't want GMOs on their farms

Martens will share her experiences and explain challenges to organic coexistence with conventional agriculture. She is an organic farmer who currently serves on the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21).

She farms, owns and operates Lakeview Organic Grain, an organic grain/feed business, in New York along with her husband Klaas Martens and three children. They have been farming organically since 1993 and currently raise 1,400 acres of organic corn, soybeans, small grains, field peas, winter peas, dark red kidney beans, and edamame soybeans along with organic cows, pigs, chickens.

Martens has written about farming and organic agriculture for ACRES USA and Rodale Institute's New Farm magazine. She has testified before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture and served on the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science Dean's Advisory Committee, the New York Agriculture and Markets Organic Agriculture Advisory Committee, and her county Farm Bureau's board of directors.

12:30 to 12:55 p.m. - Gerhart Ryffel, "Orgenic" plants, gene-manipulated plants compatible with organic farming

Ryffel is a molecular biologist who worked at the Institut für Zellbiologie (Tumorforschung), Universitätsklinikum Essen, in Essen, Germany. His main research concentrated on gene regulation in normal and defective development using cell cultures and transgenic frogs.

In the last few years, he has become interested in the discussion of the potential of GMOs in agriculture. Ryffel proposes to develop "orgenic plants," a new category of GM plants based on new technologies that he asserts are compatible with organic farming.

These orgenic plants do not contain herbicide-resistance genes to avoid herbicide application in agriculture. The plants either contain genes that are naturally exchanged between species or are sterile to avoid outcrossing if they received a transgene from a different species.

He hopes these plants will be acceptable to most skeptics of GM plants and facilitate the use of innovative new crops.

1 to 1:40 p.m. - Reception

1:45 to 2:55 p.m. - Panel Discussion

Questions can be sent to ASAP@illinois.edu by April 20 for advanced review by the panelists or submitted from the floor.

Complete information about the event is available at http://agroecologyandsustainableagriculture.org/understanding-and-addressing-the-anti-ge-critique/


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