Food Sustainability – Science for The People

Science for The People, Episode #235: Food SustainabilityFood sustainability is a hot topic. Food everything is a hot topic. The most recent episode (#235) of Science for The People (née Skeptically Speaking) is exceptionally good* on this topic. Host Desiree Schell and guests Valentine Cadieux and Emily Cassidy cover standard topics of food sustainability, but address controversial areas like GMOs and “eating local” with nuance that gets beyond simplistic arguments over whether GMOs are safe or if “eating local” is environmentally friendly.

They also raise the issue of honoring food cultures as an important element of pragmatic discussions about feeding the ever growing human population. A potential result of our desire to provide adequate calories and nutrition to impoverished areas of the globe is the destruction of traditional food cultures in poor societies, while promoting those of rich societies – a kind of benign, cultural imperialism.

Science for The People is rather unique in providing truly long-form interviews that give the hosts and guests a chance to dig into the issues. The irony of this is that the discussions raise questions that cannot be answered in the time available for even these interviews. This episode raised a lot of questions for me about the importance genetic diversity to food sustainability. If we want to make GMOs about serving people’s needs not corporate profit margins, we need to make it possible for small organizations to produce them. We also need the modifications (either GMO or results of domestication) added (either inserted or bred) into more varieties. The regulatory regime and social climate toward agricultural science impedes these things. At the same time, regulation is necessary to ensure safety (GMOs are safe, but that does not guarantee every GMO ever made will be) and proper usage (eg, minimizing leakage of resistance genes to weeds). No good answers here. Just, hopefully, good questions.

*Disclosure: I provide research assistance to Science for The People. So, while my opinion is inarguably correct, it is biased.

Author: Josh Witten

6 thoughts on “Food Sustainability – Science for The People”

    1. I’ll take a look. It is an interesting question. Do you know if the claim was made by Valentine or Emily? I suspect that part of the issue might be due to the amount of time available for explanation even in long form interviews, as often a product can be encumbered by patents related to methods used for its creation – not necessarily the IP contained in the final product. But, I’m speculating and will see what can be done about getting a clear answer.

      1. No, I don’t know–I was listening…er…falling asleep and wasn’t always clear on who was talking. But whoever it was talked about some paper that analyzed it, and I didn’t recognize it. So I’d like to have a look. It sounded like more of a legal take than the science so it’s not literature I’m as exposed to.

  1. Thanks, Josh, for trying to clarify what I was talking about with the IP issues — I suspect that you’re right, about part of the encumbrance being related to methods patents, and there are also some other issues (that have partly to do with the number of different institutions involved, and the different methods and capacity for assigning or bearing risk — issues that are not my area of specialty and that are difficult to understand but that seem important to start engaging as we try to move into more nuanced discussions of how to evaluate and manage both biotechnology and also food system intervention more generally). I provided the articles by David Kryder and colleagues that Rachel Schurman was referring to over on the SftP site (David Kryder et al., The Intellectual and Technical Property Components of pro-Vitamin A Rice (GoldenRiceTM): A Preliminary Freedom-To-Operate Review, ISAAA Briefs No. 20, at 56 (2000) and Stanley P. Kowalski and R. David Kryder (2002): Golden rice: A case study in intellectual property management and international capacity building — Schurman’s work on this is not yet published, although her prior work with William Munro may be of interest, given the ongoing struggles we will face in this area, about the differences in perspective and lifeworlds between ag biotech scientists and anti-GMO activists.

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