Last week we learned that Humboldt State will fulfill its role of community leadership by presenting speakers with strong points of view on the issue of biotechnology, specifically, genetically engineered food, popularly known as GMOs. Here’s the announcement:
HSU Press Release
Humboldt State University and GMO Free Humboldt present the Genetically Modified Organism Fall Speaker Series Aug. 29, Sept. 5 and Sept. 12 on the HSU campus.
Lectures are free and open to the public and will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Native American Forum, Room 162 of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building.
Ray Seidler kicks off the speaker series Aug. 29 with “The Truth About GMOs.” Seidler spent 16 years as a professor of microbiology at Oregon State University and 17 years as senior research scientist and team leader at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
He has authored or co-authored over 155 peer reviewed publications and three books. While at the EPA, Seidler also wrote the first GMO biosafety research plan and conducted extensive research on GMOs.
On Sept. 5, Michael Hansen presents “Are Genetically Engineered Foods Safe to Eat? What Are the Risks, and Who Ensures Safety?” Hansen is a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union, a national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the rights of consumers and the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.
Hansen has been responsible for developing Consumers Union positions on safety, testing and labeling of genetically engineered food and mad cow disease. Since 2003, he has worked on a multi-state effort to ban the use of food crops to produce pharmaceutical drugs and industrial chemicals.
Ignacio Chapela delivers the final installment of the speaker series Sept. 12 with “GMOs: Who Wins, Who Loses?”
Chapela has held various research posts in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway and the United States. Before joining the faculty at UC Berkeley, Chapela worked in the agro- and pharmaceutical industry, academia and policy-making institutions. In addition to working on microbial ecology, he has also researched the access, ownership and stewardship of genetic resources.
For more information on the GMO Speaker Series, contact Noah Zerbe, chair of the Department of Politics, at (707) 826-3911 or [email protected] or Bill Schaser of GMO Free Humboldt at (707) 443-5323 or [email protected].
Is that all there is?
It’s a timely development, since ballot Measure P will offer Humboldt residents the opportunity to ban cultivation of biotech crops in this county.
Voters will have to do a risk/benefit calculation as to whether the benefits extolled by backers – pest and disease resistance, increased productivity and improved nutrition among them – outweigh the risks, which local Measure P backers GMO Free Humboldt (GMOFH) say pose a clear and present danger to local organic agriculture and the economy.
Not everyone agrees that biotech crops pose any hazard at all. In fact, support for GMO crops in the scientific community is roughly at the same level as that for anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
The scientific consensus is that biotech is well-understood, and like technological innovations such as crop rotation, offers important tools and benefits to farmers and consumers, with little risk. Opposition to both biotechnology and AGW tends to be cultural and political in nature, rather than science-based.
There are always outlier scientists who dissent from the mainstream scientific consensus, and to the dismay of biotech supporters, HSU’s Genetically Modified Organism Fall Speaker Series is – so far – composed exclusively of those who hold this fringe view.
It would be as though HSU offered a Climate Change Fall Speaker Series, with all three speakers denying that global warming exists. There are places in the country where that would go over very well.
The announcement didn’t go unnoticed in the scientific community. This comment was posted in response on the Union’s website:
‘Anti-GMO Speaker Series’
Noah Zerbe, a Politics Professor, gives the political group academic cover by calling this “A Humboldt State University Speaker Series” even though HSU had no role in selecting the speakers, and the speakers were picked specifically to promote a political ideology. He further gives it the misleading title of “GMO Speaker Series” rather than “Anti-GMO speaker series.”
Noah Zerbe should be ashamed of himself for letting the University be manipulated into promoting political organizations with anti-science viewpoints. It does the University, the students and the community a disservice.
Professor of Biology
Humboldt State University
The rest of the story?
Former HSU President and genetic scientist Rollin Richmond also weighed in, saying he was “puzzled” by Zerbe’s one-sided booking. He publicly stated on the local Humboldt Skeptics Facebook page that “HSU needs to do better.”
Scan Humboldt State’s Mission, Vision and Values at humboldt.edu/president/vision, and see for yourself how many bullet points are violated by the university presenting only a minority scientific view of a heated controversy with a related ballot measure coming up Nov. 4.
Zerbe initially referred all questions to Bill Shaser of GMOFH. Shaser denied Wilson’s allegation that the organization paid for the speakers, though he said it did arrange for their appearance at HSU.
Shaser denied that the lineup is unbalanced. He said the three speakers will evenhandedly relate scientific concerns about GMOs and that they represent the entire Speaker Series’ lineup.
As we went to press...
One way out would be if these were just the first three speakers in the series, with three more to come who would offer the evidence-based, majority scientific consensus.
The original announcement didn’t mention further speakers to come, and best we can tell, there weren’t going to be any. But over the weekend, something apparently changed, and for the better.
As we went to press Monday, Zerbe called to say he was “now working on adding more speakers.”
Whatever happens with the Speaker Series, the university’s radio station will offer a range of views of the issue.
GMOs on TNT
KHSU 90.5 FM’s Thursday Night Talk will host two shows on the topic of biotechnology. The first is Aug. 28, at 7 p.m., hosted by Eric Kirk and features GMO opponent Ray Seidler.
The second is two weeks later on Sept. 11, is hosted by Kevin Hoover and features biotechnology advocates. More details to follow.