UF/IFAS to host public event to discuss GMO foods

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Genetically engineered foods are a politically charged, often misunderstood subject, and University of Florida officials hope to help shed light on the issue by hosting a public seminar June 18.

Kevin Folta, chairman of UF’s horticultural sciences department, has organized the event, scheduled from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. in Emerson Alumni Hall. Several well-known experts will lecture and answer questions. All are welcome to attend.

Folta hopes to dispel myths and provide a better understanding about what are commonly referred to as “genetically modified organisms” or “GMOs.”

Scientists use the term “genetic modification” to refer to the ways genes can be used to add favorable traits in new plant varieties. They use the term “genetic engineering,” or “transgenic development,” to describe the process of adding one or two desirable traits to an organism in the laboratory. For example, plants may be genetically engineered to survive herbicide treatments (to cut costs and decrease tilling), add pest resistance (to cut insecticide treatments and save labor and fuel), or provide virus resistance.

Currently the only genetically engineered crops are field corn, soybean, cotton, canola, sugar beet, papaya and a small acreage of squash.

There will be several presentations, among them a 9 a.m. update from Folta on where genetically engineered crops are used today and how they work; a 9:30 a.m. discussion of risks vs. benefits, led by Bruce Chassy, an emeritus professor of food science from the University of Illinois, and at 10:45 a.m., Karl Haro von Mogel, corn researcher from the University of Wisconsin, will address popular myths about GMOs.

At 11:45 a.m., Jon Entine, a journalist who’s written extensively on the topic for the Genetic Literacy Project and Forbes, will lead a discussion on journalists and GMO communication. Finally, at 12:15 p.m., Entine will moderate an audience discussion and question-and-answer session.

Parking restrictions will be lifted in the lot and garage by the O’Connell Center, across the street from Emerson Alumni Hall.  The event will be broadcast live on the web at: Biotech Literacy Day. Or follow the event on Twitter using the hashtag #UFBiotech.

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