On Monday October 24, David Castle, Chair of Innovation in the Life Sciences, ESRC Innogen Centre, University of Edinburgh, visited Penn State as part of the 2011-2012 Food Ethics Lecture Series. His visit commenced with a lecture entitled “Personalized Nutrition: Ethical and Regulatory Aspects.” The lecture illustrated the impact of the human genome project (HGP) on innovations that improve health care, like more and better diagnostics. A central motivation underlying the HGP has been to bridge the gap between generalized human genomic knowledge and individual genetic applications. Personalized medicine remains in the future, but achieving some measure of personalization in nutrition may have better prospects. Nutritional genomics and genetics–aka “nutrigenomics”–has been the object of intense ethical and regulatory scrutiny, however, in part because of early direct-to-consumer offers. While concerns about safety must be explored, an overarching framework for assessing risks and benefits has not been agreed upon, much less deployed. A piecemeal approach to weighing ethical and regulatory considerations regarding new science and technology raises problems for personalized nutrition.

The lecture was followed by an evening seminar entitled “On Farm Performance of Herbicide Tolerant Crops.” Readings for the seminar presented the results from a recent study of on-farm benefits of herbicide tolerant canola in Western Canada. The three parameters of the study–economic, environmental and toxicological–were designed to investigate on-farm benefits from use of GM Herbicide-tolerant Canola. The results of the study showed the impacts of Canola use to be favorable with regards to each of the above parameters. Discussion in the seminar focused on the methods used and the outcomes of this study, and discussed whether other measures ought to be considered. Some of the questions raised during the seminar regarded the particular claims made in the published outcomes suggesting direct correlation between no-till techniques and HT crops, as one cannot necessarily be said to cause the other. Other matters of concern not covered by the study include the problem of increased herbicide residue on HT crops. Castle addressed the need for more expansive research on the use of HT crops, stressing that the study undertaken by him and his colleagues dealt with a specific crop in a particular context.  

David Castles lecture can be viewed online via mediasite.

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