Movie Screening “Food evolution” and debate about the benefits of and concerns about applying modern biotechnology in agriculture

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The invention of genetic transformation of plants in the early 1980s (Van Montagu and Schell, University of Ghent) has resulted in one of the fastest adoptions of a new technology in the history of agriculture. At the same time, the use of these new techniques also started a global debate about the benefits of and concerns about applying modern biotechnology in agriculture. That global debate continues up to today and has in fact intensified over the years in Europe.

As one of the activities of Biotech Week 2017 we organized a debate on the role of modern biotechnologies in sustainable agriculture, the concept of responsible innovation, and whether the EU can benefit from agricultural biotechnologies and innovation, including GMOs, while maintaining high safety standards on 26th September 2017 at the Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van Belgie (KVAB) in Brussels.

The seminar started with the documentary “Food Evolution”, directed by Academy Award-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy. (Official site documentary).
Afterwards, brief statements were made by the 3 panel members Prof. Em. Marc Van Montagu, Prof. Dirk Inzé and Prof. Johan Braeckman. The debate with the public was moderated by Prof. Koen Goethals.

Capturepanel3The movie depicted beautifully and in a balanced way the contrasts within our society about GMOs. Moreover, it explicitly showed the impact GM technology and biotechnology in general could have in some parts of the world. As mentioned by Marc Van Montagu, the world population growth has its implications and we need sustainable solutions. The case of the Hawaiian papaya is an excellent example of such a solution. Still a lot can be done in other regions, especially in Africa, not only on bananas but on many other crops which could help local farmers to aim for a life without hunger and poverty. Johan Braeckman provocatively proposed that a doom scenario close to us could be a game changer in the public perception of this technology. In a globalized world, we could consider that what happens in Uganda should already sensitize us. Hunger is a daily reality for many of these smallholder farmers.Prof. Marc Van Montagu, together with the IPBO team, is working hard in trying to create awareness about the potential of biotechnology to alleviate hunger and poverty in Africa. As Dirk Inzé highlighted, we need to teach our children to think critically instead of only showing the end products of scientific innovation.