Wayne Parrot (L)Andrew Paterson (R). (The following editorial is reprinted with permission from the Winter 2000 issue of the University of Georgia’s Research Reporter).In the age of the Internet, laser eye surgery and high-yielding crops, most people would agree with scientists that basic research and resulting technologies help society. UGA Photo: Paul Efland But through events in which technology has fallen short — from Three Mile Island to mad cow disease – the public has come face-to-face with science’s fallibility. No longer a passive recipient of technology, the public increasingly demands a role in deciding how new discoveries will be implemented.No single development highlights this new public attitude more than the stormy reception of genetically modified organisms, also known as genetically engineered products. The potential benefits of GMOs are enormous: not only increased crop yields, but also reductions in pesticide use, ground water contamination and mycotoxin levels.’Unsafe, Untested’?Groups that oppose genetically engineered foods allege they’re unsafe, untested and unregulated – notions that gain support from high-profile publicity campaigns and imbalances in media coverage.Just as the scientific data began to accumulate on the benefits of GMOs, companies like Gerber, Heinz, Seagram, McDonald’s and Frito Lay began to avoid GMO ingredients. Now, the saga of StarLink corn in taco shells has led GMO critics to assume their worst fears have been realized.GMOs are more highly regulated than any other food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates field-testing of GMO crops and any hazards they may pose to agriculture. The Food and Drug Administration determines whether GMO-derived products are equivalent to those currently on the market (and thus not subject to any extraordinary precautions) or are new products, which must undergo further safety testing and be labeled.New Products Being DevelopedAll genetically modified foods now on the market fall under the first category, while several products under development fall under the second. Foods derived using genes from known allergens or from organisms outside the traditional human diet also are subject to heightened scrutiny.The Environmental Protection Agency also must approve plants engineered with pesticidal properties, like StarLink corn. Erring on the side of caution, the EPA approved StarLink for animal feed only. Subsequently, it found no clear evidence that StarLink poses a human hazard, yet found no clear proof that it didn’t.The EPA wants conclusive results before clearing StarLink for human consumption and forwarding it to the FDA for further approval. The StarLink episode demonstrated that GMO contamination of non-GMO products is inevitable. And while the European Community allows 2 percent of GMOs in nonGMO products, the United States lacks such a standard.Outcry Surprised ScientistsThe outcry against GMOs surprised most scientists, considering the federal regulations imposed on the already rigorous peer-review process that has always decided the validity of science. Ironically, many scientists found themselves and their motives attacked by organizations whose goals coincide with their own: a safer, more stable and lower-cost food supply and responsible stewardship of the environment.The disagreements lie not in the goals, but the best ways to meet them.With high-profile spokesmen like Prince Charles, the anti-GMO movement created widespread hysteria across Europe. As misinformation spreads, many scientists feel they should stay out of the controversy and remain objective purveyors of unbiased information, safe within the Ivory Tower.GMO Opponents Not ShyGMO opponents haven’t been so shy. From protests to street theater, from newspaper ads to shareholder meetings, anti-GMO groups have pressed their message, using ecoterrorism and sensationalist terms such as “frankenfoods.”But today’s scientists must reach not only their peers but also the public with objective information about the benefits and consequences of their own work. They need to emulate the “activist scientist” roles of Albert Einstein (who vocally opposed militarism, Nazism, anti-Semitism and the careless use of nuclear weapons), Stephen Jay Gould (who defends the teaching of evolution) and Peter Raven and E.O. Wilson (who promote conservation).The fact that most agricultural scientists and anti-GMO groups share a common set of goals would seem to be the foundation for a partnership, if only they could agree on the best approach. Genetic improvement has expanded agricultural production dramatically to meet the needs of the world’s growing population. But agricultural research now receives a smaller portion of public research dollars than ever before.’Genetic Vulnerability’The “genetic vulnerability” of many major crop gene pools and the growing concentration of germ plasm ownership in the private sector reflect this diminished public investment. A partnership between activists and scientists might reassert these shared goals as national and even international priorities – before they are forced to the forefront by more widespread disasters such as have befallen Ethiopia in recent years.Yet, as long as anti-GMO groups totally rule out a role for genetically modified crops, there may never be a consensus.GMO technology is at a crossroads. Acceptance of GMO-derived products and crops will motivate further progress toward safer food, lower pesticide use, more sustainable agricultural practices and improved human health through more nutritious foods. Rejection of GMOs will likely exacerbate ecological problems as our current agricultural systems struggle to feed a growing world population.The future of our food supply may well depend on who is most vocal and most convincing: protesters or scientists.
Illustration by Wade Mickley88% say yesTrails are about releasing the spirit, not simply training the body. I run “on” the road; I run “with” the trail. There is no activity more primal than running in the woods. It reminds me that we are animals. When I run on the road, my legs and lungs are the most engaged parts of my body. When I run on a trail, I watch for rocks, roots, snakes, deer, and changes in the lay of the land. I smell wet leaves and pine resin. Trail running engages my whole body; it makes it sharper and looser. When I run on the road, I’m being dutiful and dedicated. When I run on a trail, I am wild and free.—Chris Alexander, Davidson, N.C. Adventure in the rugged outdoors always trumps the challenges that lay ahead on polished urban landscapes. Nothing beats being enveloped by the living forest, then feeling the raw earth crunching and shifting below, and inhaling the fresh oxygen rushing in to relieve overworked, burning lungs. However, road sports get more attention because spectators can watch them easier—plopping down beside the road or in front of their TV.—Jonathan Poston, Asheville, N.C. Leaving the stresses of a job and society for a few minutes—whether it be on a mountain bike or on foot—gives me a connection to something greater than any human can build. Most trails that I visit on a regular basis run with the topography of the land and provide a greater physical challenge than simply running or biking on asphalt.—Clint Ivester, Dallas, Ga. While being better for your overall physical self, trail sports also provide a better, safer atmosphere. They are primitive and enriching. We should appreciate our forests and trails while they’re still there, because they are being assaulted by development and commerce on all fronts.—Nikki McDuffee, Stanardsville, Va.I have run several road marathons over the years, and I have found that my knees and other joints aren’t as receptive to the pounding they must take on the asphalt. What running I do now is on trails. The ground has a lot more give, and the scenery is much nicer.—Karl Kunkel, High Point, N.C.I prefer to run and mountain bike on trails away from fuel-burning vehicles. Inhaling those fumes can’t be good for my health. A road run or ride may do more harm than good to my lungs.—Torrey Coffey, Loganville, Ga.———-12% say noWhile I enjoy the solitude of running in the woods, I have more fun during the experience of larger road races. At some of my favorites, like the Army 10-Miler in Washington, D.C., and the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, tens of thousands of runners congregate in a single spirit. The energy is amazing at these bigger races, and I feel like I am attending a festival. It takes my mind off the physical challenges of the distance and lets me just enjoy being a runner.This is what running is all about—going out and having a great time with some like-minded people. It’s also fun to get the encouragement of huge cheering crowds and take in the sights, including many of our country’s greatest historical landmarks. The best way to see a city is on foot with thousands of running friends.—Rick Moore, Alexandria, Va.I rely on road sports for exercise—mostly out of convenience. I need to run after long days at work to clear my head and relieve stress, but living in a city doesn’t give me the luxury of being able to quickly access a secluded wooded trail. The urban jungle certainly has its disadvantages—inconsiderate drivers, smog, and a lack of scenery—but I’ll take it over the confines of a stuffy, overpriced gym.—Mary Graves, Atlanta, Ga. I’d rather head to the track than the trail. For me, running is all about speed and pushing myself to my absolute limits. I love to see how fast I can sprint, and I just can’t do that on trails with a lot of rocks and roots. The same goes for races. I just can’t post a PR on a rugged mountain course, so I stick to the pavement where I can satisfy my need for speed.—Adam Harvey, Charleston, S.C.