Last night, about 450 people packed into New York City’s Kaufman Center to hear a genetics professor and Monsanto’s chief technology officer debate against researchers who are against the use of any genetic engineering technology. Among the audience members were writers for environmental magazines, a well-known biologist who had invented major genetic techniques, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. It was a sold-out show.
At this debate, and others put on by host Intelligence Squared U.S., the most fun part is that before the debate, and again after, audience members vote whether they’re for or against the debate topic. Whichever side gains the most support wins. This time, one side had an unusually large win.
Before the debate, 30 percent of the audience said they were against genetically engineering crops, 32 percent said they were for it, and 38 percent were undecided. In the end, 31 percent were against—and 60 percent were for, a gain of 28 percentage points. The average wining margin in the last ten Intelligence Squared U.S. debates was around 18 percentage points. The final vote also contrasts with what national polls say about how American feel about GM foods.
“The ‘for’ people were just so much more on point than the ‘against’ people,” Nye told Popular Science after the show. Nye himself worries that genetically modified crops aren’t studied for a long enough time for their environmental effects before they’re planted on farms. Crops get about five years of testing before they’re sold in the U.S., Monsanto CTO Robert Fraley says.
“I’m still not satisfied, as a scientist, as a voter, that five years is enough,” Nye says. Still, in terms of the debate itself: “The GMO people were much better spoken.” If Nye were in charge of drawing the line, he would draw it at combining ova and sperm in a lab, not at engineering pieces of genetic material into plant embryos.
We are a broad-based coalition representing the entire American agriculture food supply chain – from farm to fork. We are committed to increasing the public’s understanding about the science and safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and advocating for science-based policies that keep food affordable for every American.