We won!

Ladies and gentlemen, plants and animals, I am pleased to announce that Biofortified has been certified as the winner of the Ashoka Changemakers GMO Risk or Rescue? contest!
We have won a $1500 grant which we will use to bring more good stuff to the site, a conversation with Michael Pollan which will be sure to be enlightening for all, and an enhanced social media training session. Specific details of the last two have yet to be worked out, but what was conjecture last week is truly official now!
We will also be featured in a one-page ad in the Stanford Social Innovation Review magazine. Start the presses!
The runners-up were the Non-GMO Project and “The Campaign for Healthier Eating in America.” Although vote totals are not visible on the site, our unofficial count put us at over 800 votes, more than twice the number of votes of each of these two entries. The most-voted Latin American entry, Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests, has also won a round-trip ticket to anywhere in South America.
In what was a phenomenally exciting final few days of the contest, science bloggers and more came out of the woodwork to support us, and we would like to thank each and every one of you again for your help in promoting us and voting for us. A lot of people should deservedly share in this victory.
Not only is it a victory for science communication, but also for dialogue, honesty, and independence. There are a lot of vested interests on both sides of the debate over genetic engineering, and it is heartening to see that an independent group blog such as ours could muster support from the blogosphere and get people talking about the genetics of food like never before. I would like to see this continue, through the posts we will continue to write, more guest commentaries, interviews, videos, and conversations with each other in the new forum. We’ve been getting suggestions for new ideas, and we welcome more.
I would like to commend the Non-GMO Project and in particular their Executive Director Megan Westgate for supporting honest dialogue when things got a little ugly and accusations were flying around. And the Ashoka Changemakers people behind the scenes had to sift through almost two thousand votes to certify the contest – not a small feat so pat them on the back. I would like to thank them for hosting this contest and helping to facilitate more discussion on this important topic.
We’re now Change-Makers, so lets go out there and make some real change in the discussion about changes in the genetics of our plants. I hope you will stick around here awhile longer and help make a few changes yourselves. Let’s make our second year blogging here better than the first!

Written by Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication.

14 comments

  1. Wow, that is just so terrific. I’m snoopy-dancing in my office 🙂
    Congrats on running a great campaign and succeeding already in expanding the discussion on this topic.
    Great job.

  2. Exceptional stuff, guys!
    Hmmph- Didn’t show up on my google reader. I look forward to seeing what Pollan has to say about GMOs, especially after watching Food Inc. recently.

  3. Congrats everybody! They were just replaying the Botany of Desire documentary on public television the other night and I was brimming with anticipation of the proposed Pollan/Biofortified interview/dialogue. This is going to be good!

  4. When you interview Michael Pollan, perhaps you could do us all a favor and ask him about this part of the omnivore’s dilemma, on page 378:
    “I’m not prepared to discount any of these speclations just because thery’re not yet proveable by our science. Mushrooms are mysterious. Who’s to say the day won’t come when science will be able to measure fungus’s exotic energies, perhaps even calculate our minimum daily requirements of lunar calories?”
    This is a popular book after all and so far he has gotten away with using it to push woo. It’s not like he owes you one for doing this interview, so now’s the chance to clarify what he meant here.

  5. Good find, Grel. I remember reading that. I had to check the book to see the context, but it seems that he is not willing to discount fanciful cultural explanations of food (in this case mushrooms) that lack scientific evidence. That seems right in line with his romantic approach.
    I think when it gets closer to the day, we’ll be asking readers for more question ideas.

  6. While you’re at it could you also look into the statements he makes about C4 metabolism towards the start of the book – unless I am mistaken (I often am) I recall that he stated it was more efficient because it utilized 4 carbons rather than 3… rather than the rather more interesting reason of drastically reducing photorespiration by concentrating CO2 around rubisco etc etc. It irks me somewhat more that this was presented as scientfic information in an otherwise interesting few chapters than the utterly ludicrous (and therefore spottable by anyone who’s graduated high school) lunar energy nonsense towards the end (which admittedly was also embedded in an otherwise interesting few chapters).
    Although admittedly you may have a rather short interview if you go after him for pedantic things like that =p

  7. Yeah, there are a lot of little things that don’t matter too much, for example, he singles out TBHQ (a preservative), calling it a ‘form of butane.’ Well tetra-hydro butyl quinone has a butyl group, but that’s not a form of butane. He also referred to it in a speech as a ‘form of benzene’ which by his definition means that three amino acids are ‘forms of benzene.’ The terms butane and benzene are used in conjunction with saying “I don’t know about you but I don’t want to eat benzene or butane.” But TBHQ is not butane or benzene, just as much as butyric acid in parmesan cheese is not butane, and tryptophan, phenylalanine and Tyrosine are not benzene. The chemical subunits of TBHQ are used (inconsistently) as reasons for rejecting the preservative, rather than an analysis of its relative toxicity and exposure. Caffeine is about half as toxic per-gram, meaning that at the levels consumed in foods, TBHQ passes the cup of coffee test. You’d have to eat 2,000 chicken McNuggets in one sitting to even be affected by the levels of it in the oil.
    So he does make errors like this, and although they need correcting like any other error, and I’d love to talk to him about TBHQ as well, there are a finite number of questions we could ask him. It might be more worthwhile to ask why he stumps for the voodoo-rich Biodynamic Agriculture in a passage about how we need many food systems and forms of agriculture, and doesn’t mention genetic engineering in that list. He has also called for multiple approaches to our agricultural problems, excluding nothing. It would seem that he should include this technology in that list, and I’d like to see if he would explicitly agree on that point.
    Although the poor TBHQ analysis is equally problematic, and the C4 metabolism also scientifically problematic, the correction would be soon forgotten by most people. However, an explicit statement about pursuing GE along with all other options would have a more lasting impact. Some of the stuff we’ll have to consider when choosing our questions!

Comments are closed.