The great GMO debate: Monsanto, anti-GMO camp square off

On Dec. 3, four authorities, including a Monsanto executive and an anti-GMO USDA adviser, will debate GMO safety, their impact on the environment, and whether they can aid global food security. modified organisms (GMOs) are developed for a number of different reasons—to fight disease, enhance flavor, resist pests, improve nutrition, survive drought—but around the world, communities are fighting the cultivation of genetically engineered crops, concerned about their impact on the environment and human safety. In last week's elections, measures to mandate the labeling of genetically modified food products were on the ballots in two states (Colorado and Oregon), but failed to pass in both cases. On Dec. 3, award-winning debate series Intelligence Squared U.S. (IQ2US) will take on these issues with a debate on the motion "Genetically Modify Food."

At the debate, four authorities with a variety of backgrounds—including an appearance from an executive from Monsanto arguing for the motion and an advisor to the USDA arguing against—will debate the risks and rewards of genetically modified food in terms of our safety, their impact on the environment, and whether they can help improve food security around the globe.

Arguing for the motion:

  • Robert Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer, Monsanto 
    Dr. Robert Fraley is executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto. He has been with Monsanto for over 30 years, and currently oversees the company’s global technology division which includes plant breeding, biotechnology, and crop protection research facilities in dozens of countries. In 2013, he was honored as a World Food Prize Laureate. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2008 National Academy of Sciences Award for the Industrial Application of Science for his work on crop improvement and the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999.
  • Alison Van Eenennaam, genomics and biotechnology researcher, University of California, Davis 
    Alison Van Eenennaam is a genomics and biotechnology researcher and cooperative extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at University of California, Davis. The mission of her extension program is “to provide research and education on the use of animal genomics and biotechnology in livestock production systems.” She has served on several national committees including the USDA National Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. Van Eenennaam was the recipient of the 2014 Borlaug CAST Communication Award.

Arguing against the motion:

  • Charles Benbrook, research professor, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources 
    Charles Benbrook is a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, and program leader of Measure to Manage: Farm and Food Diagnostics for Sustainability and Health. His career has focused on developing science-based systems for evaluating the public health, environmental, and economic impacts of changes in agricultural systems, technology, and policy. Benbrook has served as an appointed member on the USDA’s AC 21 agricultural biotechnology advisory committee since 2011. His 2012 peer-reviewed study documenting the big increase in herbicide use triggered by the planting of genetically engineered crops in the U.S. has been downloaded over 110,000 times.
  • Margaret Mellon, science policy consultant and fmr. senior scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists
    Margaret Mellon is a science policy consultant in the areas of antibiotics, genetic engineering and sustainable agriculture. In 1993, Mellon founded the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists to promote the adoption of science-based farming systems that are simultaneously productive, environmentally benign, and resilient in the face of stress. The program critically evaluated products of genetic engineering for their contribution to sustainable agriculture and urged the reduction of unnecessary antibiotic use in animal agriculture. Mellon has published widely on the potential environmental impacts of biotechnology applications, and served three terms on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture.

The debate will also stream live online, then air soon after as part of the syndicated NPR show "Intelligence Squared U.S." On December 3, online viewers can tune in here or via IQ2's new app.

WHAT: Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates "Genetically Modify Food"
WHEN: Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014 / Reception 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. / Debate 6:45 to 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Kaufman Center/129 W. 67th Street (bet. Broadway and Amsterdam)/New York, N.Y. 10023
TICKETS: $40 ($12 for students w/ ID). To purchase, visit

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