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March 13, 2000


Gabriel: "Re: A view from a scientist" (


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

From: "Dean W. Gabriel"

I just read Rich Kottmeyer's well written thoughts on how to "win"
the GM foods controversy. Essentially, he argues that to "win" the
debate, it would be more effective to move away from a science-based
argument in favor of either: 1) keeping labels off foods (keep 'em
ignorant) or 2) emotional appeals to "feed the poor" and "save the

Since he is an attorney, I can understand why he would feel more
comfortable winning an argument on these terms. As a science
professor, I feel quite comfortable winning a debate that is
science-based. However, it is ONLY because the scientific data assures
us that GM foods are safe that I agree with the tactical approaches
proposed by Mr. Kottmeyer. I don't believe it is a big mistake, as Mr.
Kottmeyer argues, to try "to handle the issue of GM safety objectively
as an issue of science and research". Without the objective foundation
of safety carefully laid by years of science and research, there would
be no moral basis for the tactics.

The moral basis is important. With it, our regulatory agencies have
built up a high level of public credibility. Here in the U.S., the
debate is different from that in Europe, where the regulatory agencies
cashiered their credibility (mad cow disease). In Europe, the
inappropriate use of tactics to "win" caused them to lose the
strategic ability to use their regulatory agencies to calm public

We have not lost the primary value of our regulatory agencies in the
U.S., and it is important that we never do. As long as U.S. regulatory
agencies make science-based decisions, both the consuming public and
providing businesses should flourish _because_ safety is first. The
episode of bovine somatotropin is a perfect example. USDA stood its
ground in the face of misinformation and public appeals to save the
small dairy only a few years ago. Now we have headlines speaking
favorably of the lowest milk prices in years, and not a word about the
possibility of hormones in our milk. (And no labeling, either).

This is why I believe it is not a mistake to try to handle the issue
of GM safety objectively as an issue of science and research. Perhaps
it should not be the only way to handle the issue, but I would argue
that Monsanto or any other company could not be successful for very
long unless tactics are secondary to a moral business strategy. Since
the science is so clear on the GMO issues, such a strategy should
include helping the regulatory agencies maintain an effective, visible
position as part of the debate. We should do everything that we can to
keep their decision-making process science-based, and then back them
up publically when they do. They can be a very effective firewall, but
only if they remain credible. If their credibility becomes compromised
by abusive political tactics or bad science, then they are useless to


Dean W. Gabriel
Professor of Plant Pathology
Dean W. Gabriel Office: 1-352-392-7239
Plant Pathology Department Email: gabriel@biotech.ufl.edu University
of Florida Fax: 1-35