Food Bullying Podcast

Why is technology in food so scary? Episode 43


We are likely to stand in line to get the latest smart phone technology —  so why do we fear technology in food? In this delightful episode, Dr. Kevin Folta makes Eliz and Michele roar with laughter and sheds light on genetics, technology, and how to he’s working to make strawberries taste better.  We discuss how science is working to solve important problems for people and the environment.

Kevin is a professor in plant molecular biology that publishes frequently in the genetics of fruit flavor and light regulation of plant traits. He has been a fixture in the public discussion of genetic engineering and food for almost two decades, and is recognized for his communications work with scientists and farmers. He has also hosted the weekly Talking Biotech Podcast for over 200 episodes and 1 million downloads.

Key points:

  • There is intellectual property in food.  Like an author’s book is intellectual property, seeds and plants are created and carry the same rights.
  • Selective breeding is like being a “strawberry pimp.”
  • Genetic terms:
    • Genetic Modification: an imprecise term meant to convey a creepy distance from food. Scientists don’t use the term GMO.
    • Genetic Engineering: an imprecise term for using science to change a plant. It is better than modified. Would you rather drive across an engineered bridge or a modified bridge?
    • Transgenics: Specific type of engineering that changes a plant by inserting a gene from another organism. For example a bacteria to make the plant resistant to disease. It is like going to the library and putting a new book on the shelf.
    • CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats): Specific type of engineering that involves gene editing.  It is like going to the library and erasing a letter or two from one book and alter its meaning.
  • Genetic engineering technology is so precise that it can be tested to make sure it is doing exactly what is intended without any other effects or changes. The likelihood of side effects are very low. Only one gene is changing. Regulations require a tremendous amount of data.
  • Selective breeding isn’t tested and creates many collateral outcomes that are not intended.  For example, corn during selective breeding often incorporate 5000 new genes.
  • We regulate the least risky technology to death.
  • Kevin has been bullied by people who have entrenched interests against technology, including non-stop freedom of information act requests and threats.
  • Scientists need to show how technology can solve very important problems for people and the environment. Solutions are available to help starving people around the world, and we don’t use it because of the fear.
  • Tips to overcome Food Bullying:
    • Listen to scientists and ask questions of scientists. Make the phone ring at your Land Grant University.
    • Follow trusted sources.
    • Eat a variety of healthy foods.


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