While studies have shown over the years that genetically modified organisms are safe to consume, the public’s opinion on them is still skeptical.
The increased debate over GMOs led Kevin Folta, the chairman of the horticultural sciences department at UF, and two doctoral students to Washington, D.C., on Thursday, where they met with the U.S. House Science Committee.
Along with Folta, students Chris Barbey and Alejandra Guevara created a brief presentation to start the meeting with the committee and then opened the floor to questions. The trio answered questions the members had about GMOs, the environment, product labeling and product safety.
“Regardless of political leanings, I found the representatives and their aides to be excited about learning more from someone who is not pushing an agenda,” Folta said.
Scientists are more valuable for informing government leaders to change their policy on GMOs because scientists do not have a political agenda like other groups or businesses, Folta said. In addition to the House Science Committee, the group also spoke to the offices of Rep. Ted Yoho, Rep. Patrick Murphy, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson.
The public perception is in an odd place, according to the scientists. Many people lack the proper knowledge about GMO science.
From studying genetic improvement of potatoes and strawberries to plant breeding sorghum, Barbey and Guevara have seen how GMO science opens doors for the world of agriculture, science and the environment. However, the confusion about this science has slowed down the advancement of genetic technologies, with the most recent implementations still being from the late ‘90s, Barbey said.
“When we chastise good technology,” Folta said, “we lose the opportunities that it could have.”
[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 6/29/15]