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March 4, 2003

Food For Thought

An April conference at Calvin College will bring together scientists, policy advisors, ethicists and laypeople for wide ranging conversations on agricultural biotechnology, a topic with scientific and societal implications. Up for discussion will be such things as the benefits and risks of genetically modified foods, the role of biotechnology in corporate and organic farming and the future of poor subsistence farmers.

"Agricultural Biotechnology and Sustainability: Food For Thought" will be held April 25 26 at Calvin's Prince Conference Center.

It's an important topic says Calvin biotechnology professor and conference organizer Dave Koetje.

"Agbiotech may have wide ranging implications for food production systems, food security, conservation and world trade," he says. "It has sparked intensive debate. Yet how we relate to these issues is strongly influenced by our fundamental value system, our worldview, and we rarely consider this in our public discussions. This conference is a chance for participants to explore the relationships between fundamental values and concerns about agbiotech and sustainability."

The issues, says Koetje, are numerous. What are the potential risks and benefits of agbiotech? What are ways to manage risks and share the benefits? What are the ethical considerations for scientists, producers, consumers and others? Should there be limits on the development of genetically modified foods? How can a pluralistic society reach consensus on these issues?

The conference is aimed at a broad audience: farm and food industry groups, consumer groups, policy makers, ethicists, environmentalists, clergy and more.

"Anyone," says Koetje with a smile, "who is concerned about food production. This will be an opportunity to learn more through presentations and discussions in everyday language that involve real people in open dialogue."

Among the presenters will be:

  • Gary Comstock, director of the ethics program at North Carolina State University, advisor on the ethics of genetically modified foods and author of a book on the ethical case against agbiotech.
  • Maarten Chrispeels, a plant molecular biologist at the University of California at San Diego and an agbiotech advisor to the U.S., Chilean and Mexican governments.
  • Deborah Letourneau, an environmental biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a member of a National Research Council committee studying the environmental impact of genetically modified plants.
  • Egbert Schuurman, a Dutch philosopher and author of numerous books on the philosophy of technology.
  • Elbert van Donkersgoed, a policy advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario in Canada and a frequent participant in agricultural working groups.

The conference is funded through a grant from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship with additional support from the Calvin biology department (which offers both a biotech major and minor) and the Calvin Summer Seminars in Christian Scholarship program.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)