A ‘bigger conversation’ on genetic engineering in food and farming

Sustain member Beyond GM is bringing together people with a range of views to try and move past a polarised conversation around genetically modified food.

A field of rapeseed. Photo credit: Pixabay

A field of rapeseed. Photo credit: Pixabay

According to Beyond GM, it’s not just our food system that is broken; the conversation about how to fix it is broken too. This is especially so in the case of GMOs and the emerging new genetic engineering technologies where the debate is angry, polarised and unhelpful at a time when we need it to be more open, constructive and forward thinking.

With this in mind, Beyond GM is launching a new initiative – A Bigger Conversation – the aim of which is to bring together experts and forward thinkers, including scientists, academics, farmers, breeders and grassroots leaders, from multiple disciplines and multiple sides of the debate.

This work is separate, but connected, to Beyond GM’s main campaigning work and according to their director, Pat Thomas, it intends to have a different tone and to reach out to a different audience:

“We want to get beyond the usual top line discussion of whether genetic engineering in food and farming is good or bad, safe or unsafe. That’s not to say these things aren’t important – they are – but they can also be a bit of a cuckoo in the nest, crowding everything else out.”

The idea, she says, is to give some air and light to issues around genetic engineering and its intersection with the sciences (not just applied, but social and philosophical as well), corporate control, plant and animal breeding, citizen stakeholders, regulation, ethics, media and broader concepts of sustainability.

A more nuanced and ‘grown-up’ discussion

To broaden the discussion, Beyond GM will be holding a series of in-depth discussions, panels, roundtables, world café’s, summits and other types of gatherings on these vital issues in food and farming and invite thoughtful commentary via the A Bigger Conversation website, which is building up a useful virtual ‘library’ of resources, links to papers, reports, thoughtful articles and blogs.

“Not all of these come from the centre of the GM campaigning world,” says Thomas. “For example, there is good work from the UK’s Steps Centre on the topics of scientific consensus and also on uncertainty. There are views on disruptive technologies and on care ethics as frameworks for understanding and regulating GMOs. There’s even a link to an article on how the Frankenstein myth can add value to discussions around regulations.”

The website will also list events as they arise. Beyond GM anticipates up to six meetings this year and by 2020 hopes to have demonstrated an appetite for such events and therefore be able to expand them from half-day or day-long events to even more in-depth sessions.

Although the majority of this year’s meetings will be by invitation only, briefs arising from these meetings will be distilled for public consumption.

Beyond GM is collaborating with existing partners but also looking for new collaborators from many different areas, to pull together meetings that explore these areas in a more nuanced and ‘grown-up’ way.

The initiative also has twitter and facebook pages and Pat can be contacted at: pat@abiggerconversation.org.

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