Your SIVB board just concluded a meeting in St. Louis in preparation for the annual meeting in June—and the excitement is already building! You’ll hear a lot more detail from our program chair, Dave Songstad about the latest scientific advances in our research areas. Furthermore, there will be many opportunities for networking and sharing between our animal and plant colleagues. Despite the technical advances I can’t recall a time in my career in which the public view of science has been as turbulent and negative especially about value and relationship to economic growth. The most reliable indicator will be how federal, state, and industry budgets for science fare rather than the ‘speak now and think later’ tone many of our leaders have adopted.
Our society has been much more active in public policy this year, in large measure because we have submitted comments to federal agencies about our views for future regulation and structure of how genetically modified plants and animals fit in production and consumption. We also submitted, comments to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)1 on proposed rule questions for food disclosure that are under consideration (see the survey included in this issue of the In Vitro Report for more detail). The AMS asks a number of questions about the standards for disclosure and number of categories (as in a new category for bioengineering). Breeding tools such as anther culture, somatic hybridization, apomixus, irradiation breeding, and micro propagation are just a few examples of technology we have used historically that are included and which are found in nature. The AMS has already adopted standards for organic food labeling. In our response we proposed that bioengineered foods use identical standards as those adopted for organic food labeling. The primary advantage of such a system is the simplicity of having a single set of rules that apply to both categories. The basic premise is as follows: “If the final rDNA or its protein is in the final product it should be considered covered (labeled), otherwise it is not”.
A Pew Research center survey2 asked Americans what has brought the most improvement to their lives in the past 50 years—technology was by far the most cited category (42%) followed by medicine and health (14%). Technology is a rather broad category, but obvious—computer and digital technology, agriculture, and advances in health particularly in screening for various risk factors associated with health care. The most interesting part of the Pew Research survey came from the expectations for the future contributors to life. Technology was half the historical perspective—only 22% while medicine and health was higher at 20%. Speaking directly from our society members’ capability with latest generation technology we have evidence of the ability to address difficult problems in agriculture and medicine—thus the potential contributions are likely underestimated. Despite our optimism about the reality of technology contribution, this view is not equally shared among our non-technical friends. However, I have noted more willingness to engage in discussions about how technology contributes to our quality of life. I do note that public television devotes a significant segment (5+ minutes) of their news one day per week on technology development. This coverage is at a surprisingly high level, which means that there is hope! Finally, Jayson Lusk, the winner of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award3 for 2017, pointed out in his address at the World Food Prize side event the importance of ‘telling the technology story’ especially to our non-science friends!
SIVB—motivate, assist, debate—MAD about science!
2 Pew Research Center, FactTank, October 12, 2017 (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/10/12/four-in-ten-americans-credit-technology-with-improving-life-most-in-the-past-50-years/ )