Friday, October 19, 2012

Meeting of the Parties to Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (MOP)

It has been very long since I blogged. At MABIC we were really preoccupied with many assignments; one of it is our newspaper, The Petri Dish. What made me to activate our blog was the feedback we received everywhere we went. It made us realise that we had followers and that our write ups were appreciated. I take this opportunity to thank all our readers.

I am dedicating this post to the recently concluded Meetings of the Parties to Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (MOP6). This meeting is held once every two years and this year was hosted by the Government of India in Hyderabad. MOPs discuss how GMOs/LMOs should be regulated.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) has 164 countries (Parties) that have ratified this protocol. A little tamer compared to previous MOPs as the contentious agenda items have all been deliberated and negotiated before. However, Risk Assessment and Risk Management (RA/RM) and Socioeconomic Considerations (SEC) took the limelight.

                 At the side event organised by PRRI/ISAAA/IFPRI/ICRISAT at MOP6 as a speaker

What is interesting about SEC is that only negative impacts were discussed even though there are documented positive impacts of GM crops to farmers and countries that have adopted GM crops. Poverty alleviation and reduced exposure to pesticides were hardly presented by countries that oppose GM crops. But they never fail to present imaginary negative impacts.

Another important agenda item is Article 35 of CPB that calls for assessment and review of the effectiveness of the functioning of the CPB. In my opinion, this should be the most important agenda as Parties should seriously evaluate the effectiveness of all the instruments that have been established in the past 10 years since CPB came into force. One white elephant is the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) that is hardly updated by Parties.

After attending three MOPs, I feel MOPs promote another type of tourism – Biotourism. The amount of money spent for these meetings are astronomical not to mention the associated meetings that take place in between MOPs.

Is all this fanfare necessary for a technology that has been around for 16 years without single health or environmental hazard? GM foods have undergone the biggest “clinical trial” with billions consuming it everyday.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Friday, October 12, 2012

I am a newbie at this!

Anyways I am jumping in to share a recent experience. I was at this dialogue cum workshop among scientists and journalists, meeting to communicate effectively. Didn’t have the slightest clue that it was an elephant task for both parties. They had no idea what was required of each other to make science stories perky and fun! No wonder kids these days have little love for the subject.

When you ask if journalists would like to pen a science story exactly when Kate Middleton and her gorgeous blue-eyed hubby are in town, they would rather clamber over each other to cover the royalties!  Why? It is all about what readers want!

Scientists were surprised at how journalists viewed them……boring and full of scientific jargon. But it is not an easy task to simply scientific research. One science writer puts it this way, “if my grandmother understand how you explain a science topic, then, the general public will be able to decipher the topic!”

How do scientists get a hang of it: Practice and sheer perseverance.

It was reality time as a panel of scientists, journalists and science communicators sat down to deliberate on how to report on science, zeroing into agriculture biotechnology. Everyone had fun as the realisation set in. Many began to shed their coyness and share their thoughts. Scientists realised that messages need to be simply and accurately written supported by illustrations and charts. This makes it easier on the media writers.

One suggestion from a senior editor: Create celebrities among scientists. (Hey, then we might have paparazzi going after our scientists. And that would be the day…)

Arising from this workshop will be a document on Best Practices in Communicating Agricultural Biotechnology. It will help both the scientists and journalists on how best to communicate science.

By Christina Stephensons 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I am a *Spartan Now

Last month I had a chance to attend the Science and Technology Communication Course, courtesy of Chocrane Fellowship Programme. The venue was the Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. It was a great week, listening to experts from various fields of communication talking about journalistic practices, developing articles and press releases, risk assessment, social media and ethics - and not to mention interacting with other participants who came from many parts of the world.

I must say the course was an excellent idea to nurture science communicators. As science progresses, more issues of public concern will grow. Biotechnology especially GM technology has already created fears and apprehensions. The recent paper by Seralini linking GM corn to cancer showed us how unscientific information could create fear among the public and regulators.

The role of scientists and reporters in the area of public information and education will increase as science advances and new science emerge. Nurturing and creating science communicators is instrumental and ignoring this will be at our own peril.

One of the speakers pointed out that the problem for the scientist as a public communicator is the language that could almost have been devised to conceal information. Scientist must learn to say the simplest things.

I was amazed when Dr Prakash, the founder of AgBioWorld shared a definition of GM technology by Dr Jonathan Jones :

      "Adding a new gene is like adding an app in your iPhone - it just adds a function but it is still an iPhone."

You can relate, can't you?

                                                     We are Spartans!

*Spartan is a term used for MSU alumni.

By Shamira Shamsuddin