A tale of two conferences


Lincoln University is hosting an international conference on food science and technology:

The overarching theme of the conference is the future of food innovation, nutrition and technology, and it will bring together more than 250 scientists, government officials and industry representatives from more than 50 countries around the globe.

The conference also celebrates the 50 year anniversary of the International Journal of Food Science and Technology (IJFST) – one of the oldest and most established journals in food science and technology in the world.

The conference theme is a highly relevant one, with food science and technology expected to play an increasingly important role in addressing current and future challenges in food production.

A large and rapidly growing global population, deteriorating agricultural soils, increasing demand for water resources, and the need to rapidly modify production methods based on climate change are all providing a serious challenge to the field of food science.

According to Lincoln University Professor in Food Science, Editor-in-Chief of IJFST, and conference chairman, Charles Brennan, the event is a unique opportunity to facilitate an information exchange that brings together industry, universities and research centres.

“The mix of those attending should allow for some good dialogue between both industry and research, which is tremendously important to ensure that tangible and workable projects are undertaken, the right kind of issues are addressed, and new opportunities are identified.

“The conference will also provide a great opportunity to showcase the pivotal role New Zealand plays in the area of food science and product innovation. . .

This conference will highlight the scientific approach to the challenge of feeding the world.

Offsetting Behaviour posts on another conference which provides a stark and unscientific contrast:

A plucky group of scientific outsiders, presenting results outside of the mainstream consensus, hosts its own conference with presentations mostly from those in their heterodox club. They present themselves as providing the truth that is much opposed by big moneyed interests. They’re celebrated in a reception hosted in Parliament by one of the political parties. The media is expected to highlight their alternative take on reality, with perhaps some offsetting commentary from those in the mainstream; the overall effect, though, is to stoke and legitimise popular misunderstandings. . .

This weekend brings GMO-sceptics to Wellington. Presentations include “Pesticides: scilencing the ecosystem and silencing our children” and “Overweight, undernourished, sterile and dying of cancer. Our food is it sealing the fate of humanity?”

And the Greens are hosting them in Parliament: . . .

Imagine the uproar if another party was to host a pseudo-scientific conference in parliament.

A few further notes:

  • The keynote speaker, Gilles-Eric Seralini, found tumours in mice fed GM crops. But his paper was retracted due to concerns like these. It was later elsewhere republished in a friendlier outlet.
  • Vandana Shiva, also there speaking, earned this profile in the New Yorker, which concluded:

    When Shiva writes that “Golden Rice will make the malnutrition crisis worse” and that it will kill people, she reinforces the worst fears of her largely Western audience. Much of what she says resonates with the many people who feel that profit-seeking corporations hold too much power over the food they eat. Theirs is an argument well worth making. But her statements are rarely supported by data, and her positions often seem more like those of an end-of-days mystic than like those of a scientist.

  • On 29 January this year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science released a rather timely survey on scientific support for use of genetic modification techniques in food. Huffington has the summary

    In sharp contrast to public views about GMOs, 89% of scientists believe genetically modified foods are safe.

    That’s the most eye-opening finding in a Pew Research Center study on science literacy, undertaken in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and released on January 29.

    The overwhelming scientific consensus exceeds the percentage of scientists, 88%, who think humans are mostly responsible for climate change. However, the public appears far more suspicious of scientific claims about GMO safety than they do about the consensus on global warming.

    Some 57% of Americans say GM foods are unsafe and a startling 67% do not trust scientists, believing they don’t understand the science behind GMOs. AAAS researchers blame poor reporting by mainstream scientists for the trust and literacy gaps.

    The survey also contrasts sharply with a statement published earlier this week in a pay-for-play European journal by a group of anti-GMO scientists and activists, including Michael Hansen of the Center for Food Safety, and philosopher Vandana Shiva, claiming, “no scientific consensus on GMO safety.”

The scientific consensus on GMOs is as strong as the scientific consensus on climate change. Will Browning have to retract this like he had to pull back from endorsing homeopathy for Ebola?

The Greens could play at highlighting the heterodox views on GMOs a couple years ago. But when 89% of scientists say GMO food is safe?

Scientific validity isn’t based on popularity.

But if the Greens decry as deniers those who doubt the high percentage of scientists who support the concept of human induced climate change what are they if they doubt the even higher percentage who say GMOs are safe?

And is parliament the appropriate place for such a conference?





59 Responses to A tale of two conferences

  1. Andrei says:

    Science is about skepticism and it is good that there are people willing to question and challenge the benefits of GMO

    That being said science should be apolitical because once politicians become involved the whole process is perverted,

    Politicians of course corrupt everything they get their hands on for their own political advantage


  2. “But when 89% of scientists say GMO food is safe?”

    Do you have a link to support your claim, Ele?


  3. “But if the Green decry as deniers those who doubt the high percentage of scientists who support the concept of human induced climate change”

    Ele acknowledges the “high percentage” – this is progress. Of course, it’s not only “the Green” who accept the findings of “the high percentage”, most thoughtful people do. Deniers are a very small minority of the population that is actively considering the issue.

    “…what are they if they doubt the even higher percentage who say GMOs are safe?”

    Elle cites the “even higher percentage” but there is nothing to support her claim, no detail of who those “scientists” might be, no detail of what they actually say. What branch of science to they represent? Are Ele’s 89% from across the scientific community? Or has Ele grabbed a figure from “somewhere” and hopes that it will look bona fide?



  4. In any case, the “good” conference preferred by Ele, includes climate change in its programme!
    “A large and rapidly growing global population, deteriorating agricultural soils, increasing demand for water resources, and the need to rapidly modify production methods based on climate change are all providing a serious challenge to the field of food science. (my bold)

    You can’t win, deniers – climate change is at the front of both conferences.


  5. farmerbraun says:

    Fair enough Robert.
    89% is clearly less than 97%. A lesser consensus.

    You win!


    (pssst. Ele is giving you a wind-up. Chill!! )


  6. Andrei says:

    “But when 89% of scientists say GMO food is safe?”

    That is called a “sweeping statement” Robert and is essentially meaningless.

    GMO food is of course neither safe nor unsafe it all depends upon what the modification to the genome is and what results

    You could in principle modify wheat to produce the botulism toxin which would make the wheat entirely unsafe to consume. Any lunatic who did this should be permanently incarcerated in a padded cell or perhaps publically impaled

    On the other hand Golden Rice has been modified to produce beta carotene thus providing a good source of vitamin A for populations whose diet is otherwise poor in it.

    Are you familiar with the tale of Prometheus? Not the trashy 2012 Hollywood film but the Greek myth.

    It is quite profound, a metaphor for the upsides and downsides of human technological advances


  7. A gaggle of American scientists support GMOs – surprise!

    Poor science there, Ele.


  8. From the same report:

    “For example, 52% of citizens favor allowing more offshore drilling, while fewer AAAS scientists (32%), by comparison, favor increased drilling.”

    The majority of scientists oppose off-shore drilling!

    Devastating news for National!

    Great link, Ele!


  9. Mr E says:

    “Are Ele’s 89% from across the scientific community? Or has Ele grabbed a figure from “somewhere” and hopes that it will look bona fide?”

    Read the links Robert. Your answers are there.


  10. I did. Ele’s “89% of scientists say GMO food is safe” is pure bunkum, unadulterated nonsense, tripe, push and generally of zero value by anyone’s reckoning. Other commenters here indicate the same thing, Mr E. Ele’s “sample” is small, biased, non-scientific and worthless. Mind you, they did significantly oppose off-shore drilling – what do you think of that, Mr E? No doubt you’ll support those scientists and their findings, despite the National Government here being fully supportive of off-shore drilling.


  11. TraceyS says:

    “Experts who have contributed to the debate at national and international level generally agree that potential risks arising from foods produced through modern biotechnology are no different from those associated with new varieties of plants produced through conventional breeding (OECD, 1986). Furthermore, there are no indications that there may be adverse effects from the consumption of GM crops, like the herbicide-tolerant soybean and insect-protected maize. All GM crops that have been approved for commercialisation and entered the agri-food chain have undergone extensive testing. The safety testing has been conducted on a case-by-case basis and is tailored to the specific characteristics of the modified crop and the changes that are introduced through genetic modification.”

    “The corner stone of the safety assessment of novel foods, including foods derived from GM crops, is the concept of substantial equivalence.”

    This means that GM crops are as safe as the conventional equivalent.


    Assessment of the safety of foods derived from genetically modified (GM) crops. A. Königa, A. Cockburnb, R.W.R. Crevelc, E. Debruyned, R. Grafstroeme, U. Hammerlingf, I. Kimberg, I. Knudsenh, H.A. Kuiperi, A.A.C.M. Peijnenburgi, A.H. Penninksj, M. Poulsenh, M. Schauzuk, J.M. Wall. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Vol 42, Iss 7, July 2004, pp 1047–1088


  12. Have they covered the threat to the environment from these crops?
    Or the impact on nonage croppers in the vicinity?

    I doubt it. Too narrow a focus gives skewed results.


  13. jabba01 says:

    Signs that scientists have gone too far with genetically modified food:

    *Your hot dog just fetched its own ketchup and relish.

    *You spot the tell-tale signs of a primitive central nervous system in you Jell-O.

    *Chocchini: looks like zucchini, tastes like a Ding Dong.

    *The black-eyed peas on your fork just winked at you.

    *Every time you pour a glass of orange juice, your garage door goes up.


  14. TraceyS says:

    Define “threat” please.

    Good research is necessarily narrow in focus. Breadth of scope has nothing to do with skewedness. I wonder if you even understand, in statistical terms, what the term means.


  15. RBG says:

    Andrei at 8.09am makes a very good point. It is not credible to declare an entire class of individually unique organisms safe.


  16. RBG says:

    TraceyS, the reference you gave is from 2004. From that you can’t possibly presume GMOs created since that time are safe , or that those developed in the future will be. There hasn’t even been enough time for long term safety of the GMOs of 10 years ago to be proven. Some adverse affects take a long time to develop, consider asbestos, tobacco and agent orange. And remember you brought up the subject of epigenetics recently, we don’t know all the factors that affect gene expression in nonGMO organisms, so it is a huge conceit to expect that we know how it will all pan out in the future with GMOs.


  17. TraceyS says:

    The research I referenced does not presume that GM crops are 100% safe. Nor does it presume that conventional crops are 100% safe; “substantial equivalence” finds that GM crops are no less safe than conventional crops. In fact, the article suggests that they are possibly safer because they are tested much more rigorously than conventional crops which we simply assume to be safe.


  18. RBG says:

    People have been eating maize and soy for many generations, herbicide resistant GM maize and soy are recently developed and long term safety is, as yet, unproven. It took decades for the adverse effects of asbestos, tobacco and agent orange on human health to be demonstrated. Most studies on GMOs are funded by the same companies that make huge profits from them. There is very little funding from this National government for independent, long term studies on GMOs. Taking advice on the safety of GMOs from Monsanto is like taking advice on climate change from the biggest greenhouse gas emitters -oh hang on, thats what our current government does! Profit beats the precautionary principle when the right wing are in charge.


  19. TraceyS says:

    “Global consensus has been reached on the basic scientific strategy to assess GM plants and derived products thereof (FAO/WHO, 1996). This strategy has now been incorporated in regulations in many countries (Canadian-Government, 2012, chap. 870; EFSA, 2011, FDA, 1992 and FDA, 1997) and is basically a comparative safety assessment (Kok, Keijer, Kleter, & Kuiper, 2008). The comparative character of the food and feed safety assessment indicates that GM plants as such will not be assessed for their safety, but that the safety of comparable conventional varieties will be used as a baseline for the safety assessment of the newly developed plant variety. The outcome of the assessment will thus not be that the GM plant is safe or not, but the result will be formulated in terms of ‘as safe as’ comparable conventional varieties that we consider as safe (EC, 2013, EFSA, 2011 and FAO/WHO, 1996).


    Safety aspects of genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance. Chanjuan Lianga, Theo W. Prinsa, Clemens C.M. van de Wielc, Esther J. Koka. Trends in Food Science & Technology. Vol 40, Iss 1, Nov 2014, pp 115–122

    What issue do you have with ‘safe’ conventional varieties being used as a baseline for the safety assessment of GM plants?


  20. TraceyS says:

    Robert, Ele’s claim regarding consensus was obviously mostly accurate with the proviso that “safe” means “as safe as” conventional varieties. That you have a different definition of safe doesn’t mean that she was wrong.


  21. RBG says:

    Obviously there has to be a baseline to compare the GMO to and it can’t be a completely different organism. Duh! You think anyone is going to try comparing GMO soy to fish? 90 days of feeding both a GM and non GM food to rats and analysing tissue samples does NOT prove that its safe to feed your kids that GM food for 20 years.


  22. TraceyS says:

    I never suggested what you have written. Specifically, I did not say that anything has been “prove[n] safe”. Nor did anyone else here.

    But the question of long term consequences is no more likely to be negative than it is to be positive.

    “Consequently, it has to be assumed that transgenesis may affect the allergenicity of wheat in positive as well as in negative ways. In the case of the GM wheats studied here, the differences observed with their natural counterparts are encompassed in the natural variability of conventional wheat cultivars. This confirms that the assessment of food safety in GM plants, at least in terms of wheat allergenicity, should be evaluated case by case, and that it is not possible to leave out the comparison with the natural variation of parameters under evaluation“.


    Assessment of the allergenicity of soluble fractions from GM and commercial genotypes of wheats. R. Lupia, S. Mascia, H. Rogniaux, O. Tranquet, C. Brossard, D. Lafiandra, D.A. Moneret-Vautrin, S. Denery-Papini, C. Larré. Journal of Cereal Science. Vol 60, Iss 1, Jul 2014, pp 179–186

    Why is it that RBG et al. are so keen to leave out natural variation, whether the topic be genetic modification, or climate change?

    Maybe someone would like to offer their thoughts on this?


  23. TraceyS says:

    Robert, hopefully you are satisfied that my sources are not a “gaggle of Amercian scientists…” and RBG – are you happy with the recency and reputability of the journals referenced? If not, just let me know (politely of course).


  24. RBG says:

    ‘I never suggested what you have written.’ Coming from someone who said ‘why is it RBG et al are so keen to leave out natural variation’ thats a joke!


  25. TraceyS says:

    So you recognise the possibility that any risk associated with GM crops may be eclipsed by natural variation? That conditions favouring aflatoxin, phytotoxin, or pathogenic micro-organisms, for examples, may be a far greater food safety concern than changes introduced by genetic modification?

    What about in the case of the climate – how great is the influence of natural variation? Could it eclipse the changes effected by humans? If not, how do you know? Is there a test or do we have no choice but to rely on the test of time as we have always done with food?


  26. *You spot the tell-tale signs of a primitive central nervous system in your Jell-O. – that’s good, Jabba (I added an ‘r‘ for accuracy)

    Tracey – you are focussed on allergenicity. That’s a very narrow focus. The issues surrounding GMO cropping are multitudinous. I don’t for a moment accept that because a certain GMO is no more allergenic than it’s non-GMO “sister”, that it is safe. There’s a world of effects associated with the development and deployment of any GMO and many, many facets of that that are potentially unsafe.
    I think “artificial leaves” best expempefies your position on GMOs.


  27. TraceyS – you think the many, many climate scientists working on the AGW issue haven’t considered natural variation of the climate?
    Good grief, woman!
    Any port in a storm, eh! Any tiny straw to cling on to!
    Next, you’ll be claiming ” but…volcanoes!”


  28. TraceyS says:

    “Tracey – you are focussed (sic) on allergenicity”

    No. I referred to a single journal article on that particular topic as an example. You can’t imply my focus is narrow from that. As I said before individual studies are often narrow. If not they would frequently be inconclusive or would drag on indefinitely.

    Allergenicity is a very important concern. I think risks should be addressed carefully and systematically. This necessitates a narrow focus on each area of risk.

    I asked you earlier, what are the specific “threats”, “multitudinous issues” and “world of effects” you are referring to? Go on. I have contributed one to the debate – now’s your turn to contribute something useful.


  29. TraceyS says:

    “TraceyS – you think the many, many climate scientists working on the AGW issue haven’t considered natural variation of the climate?”

    Considered? Yes of course. What did they come up with?


  30. TraceyS says:

    Why do you think I’ll next be claiming “but…volcanoes”? I’ve never mentioned volcanoes.


  31. The shrinking of research funding in the conventional plant-breeding field and the swelling of funding to the GMO researchers, especially at universities.

    The well-documented legal harassment of conventional farmers whose crops are contaminated with GMO pollens and the claim that those farmers cannot sow the resulting patented seed.

    The well-documented escape of GMO pollen and plants from the “secure” facilities into the open, as seen here in our own country.

    Is that enough to get you started, TraceyS? I have a raft of other examples of issues concerning GMOs and can put them out here for you to choice on, if you wish. There are so many areas of great concern surrounding the use of GMOs – are you sure you really want to enter the debate on them? You seem short-sighted in this field.


  32. Why do I think you’ll be talking volcanoes? Because that desperate stance is regularly taken by deniers of AGW such as yourself and while you might not yet have advanced it, your position suggests that you will, soon enough.


  33. Mr E says:

    Over generations humans have genetically modified a species of wolf to become a Chihuahua. Genetic modifications that are so extreme, an apex predator now fits in the purse of social elites walking the streets of New York. Some people call that cute.

    Then humans genetically modify plants. They look the same and in all intense purposes behave the same except a chemical resistance. This results fear of the unknown, calls that the ‘sky is falling’, some people are even preparing for Armageddon type situations – hoping not to have GMO rations in their reserves.



  34. What did they come up with? Well, let me ask you – have you heard the climate science community declare, “No worries, everyone! It’s natural variation – nothing to worry about!”

    Good grief!


  35. TraceyS says:

    My position?


    Not at all sure what you mean by “position”. Perhaps you can clarify.


  36. That old chestnut, tired and shrivelled, Mr E. Conflating “genetic modification” with “Genetic Engineering” is a flaccid attempt to muddy the waters. You know as well as anyone that gene transfer by modern techniques does not equate with plant or animal breeding such as practiced by our forebears (which of course, weren’t bears at all, but given the Frankensteinien desires of some of today’s genetic engineers, could have been, had things been different.)


  37. You don’t know your own position on GMOs, TraceyS?

    Figures. Arse from elbow.


  38. Apologies for the indelicate phrase, but with GMOs, nothing is certain, even human anatomy. It’s quite likely some GMO scientist somewhere is trying to grow one from the other.


  39. TraceyS says:

    Robert at 9:51am:

    I am talking about food safety from a health perspective. There is a lot of scaremongering in this regard which I think is unfounded. Are you with me on that now? Because you seem to be introducing indirect concerns which suggests you are satisfied with the formerly discussed ones.

    You do raise legitimate concerns. But these are no different to the types of challenges people face with any major new development.


  40. TraceyS says:

    In life nothing is certain Robert.

    You are clearly not certain because you have not adequately answered a single question I have put to you.


  41. If a soybean is shown to be equally as non-allergenic as it’s non-GMO cousin, TraceyS, but the effects on the environment from it’s cultivation prove harmful to the health of the associated farming community, should that be taken into the “health” account.

    Yes. So “indirect” concerns need to be discussed, to avoid short-sightedness and cherry-picking, such as you practice.


  42. “In life nothing is certain Robert.”

    You sound certain of that, TraceyS.

    “Adequately”? I’ve not “adequately” answered your questions?
    Get you, School-marm.


  43. TraceyS says:

    Robert, you are avoiding all my questions. Why? Not done your revision?


  44. TraceyS says:

    “If a soybean is shown to be equally as non-allergenic as it’s non-GMO cousin, TraceyS, but the effects on the environment from it’s cultivation prove harmful to the health of the associated farming community, should that be taken into the “health” account.”

    I said it’s a legitimate concern.

    But what you have raised are essentially property and/or business effects. These need to be balanced against the health effects and this is where things get a bit trick, as you well know.

    Transgenic technology may, as an example, one day give us allergy-free wheat. Wheat is so pervasive in our diet that this would be of major benefit to the health of many people. There is some speculation that cross-breeding of wheat by traditional methods has created an allergy/sensitivity problem with wheat but I have not been able to find and studies which confirm this. It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, if modern technology could rectify some of the unintended consequences of older methods.

    Of course you could just tell people to stop eating wheat and stick to a diet of meat, dairy and veg. Oh no, sorry, you can’t can you..!


  45. TraceyS says:



  46. Not true. I immediately and enthusiastically answered your “volcano” question, making this claim of yours, nonsense:
    “You are clearly not certain because you have not adequately answered a single question I have put to you.”
    And this one: “What did they come up with?”
    Answering your questions is wearing me out!


  47. Mr E says:

    You are talking about genetic modification Robert, in your repeated reference to GMO.

    Are you saying that Humans have not genetically modified canines?
    Wolf to a Chihuahua – not genetic modification? Those genes, not modified? The same?


  48. TraceyS says:

    Right, OK, seems we have different ideas about what an answer is.


  49. Would a corporation that produces pesticides also produce plants that require no pesticides?

    Business 101.


  50. Transferring/splicing individual genes directly and physically into strands of DNA is the same, according to Mr E, as putting a little dog over a big dog.
    I despair at the level of science exhibited by some of the commenters here!


  51. What, TraceyS, is your definition of “answer” then? Mine’s bog-standard.


  52. TraceyS says:

    “What did they come up with? Well, let me ask you – have you heard…”

    Not that.


    “Because that desperate stance is regularly taken by deniers of AGW such as yourself and while you might not yet have advanced it…”

    Not that either.

    The first example is a question, not an answer. Well, two questions actually!!

    The second is a gutless attack.

    Maybe your answers are blog-standard. They’d not cut it anywhere else.


  53. Trite. I’ll leave you to your helium-induced cackling 🙂


  54. But do have a go at the 11:16 am question, Trace. It’s not difficult to answer.


  55. Mr E says:

    Robert – Why is “Transferring/splicing individual genes” in the laboratory different from transferring/splicing genetics from different animals through the process of reproduction?


  56. Because, dear, naive Mr E, the conscious breaking of a DNA strand and the insertion of new genetic material through the vehicle of all manner of virus DNA, whatever, if rife with risk unknown. It’s not how nature does it, and that alone should ring alarm bells inside of your head, providing you have some of those left. I suppose next you’ll be claiming that it’s natural


  57. Mr E says:

    So your saying breeding genetic selection is natural. Humans using their intelligence to experiment with genetics, by selection phenotypes of preference is natural, and safe. Results safe.

    You’ll no doubt be a supporter of HT swedes then. Bred naturally for chemical resistance. Not controlled in a laboratory, and undergoing the same rigorous testing and precautions that GE in NZ undergoes. Natural.


  58. HT swedes were not bred naturally. They were exposed to high concentrations of poison, you know that, Mr E. You are playing with words in an attempt to disguise the facts.


  59. Mr E says:

    HT swedes were bred using the natural selection process Robert.
    There was no splicing there. No genes transposed. Breeders observed a phenotype they wanted and selected for it. Just like the Chihuahua.

    You must be happy with it? Surely?


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