Ag's Heroes: A Defender of Science

Part one in a series unearthing champions for agriculture

Nina Federoff. That's a name farmers should know and become familiar with.

She's a leading geneticist and molecular biologist who received her Ph.D from the Rockefeller University. She was one of the first to sequence an animal gene. Switching to plants, she set out to study the 'jumping genes' discovered in corn plants by geneticist Barbara McClintock in the 1940s. In 1995 she joined the faculty at Penn State where she studied genes that protect plants from biological and nonbiological stresses.

Federoff is now the science adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State and one of the top scientific authorities in America. What's most important, she's a champion for science and, more specifically genetically modified food. She's not afraid to take on the anti-GM lobby, either here or in debate with foreign 'experts'.

Most recently she ruffled the feathers of Claire Bleakley, the spokesperson for 'GE-Free New Zealand" during a public meeting at New Zealand's Auckland University. Bleakley had told Federoff about 'genuine problems' with GM vegetable trials. Fedoroff's response? In 30 years of laboratory tests and 15 years' commercial production, "nobody had documented so much as a headache" from GM food. "How many more decades of testing do you want?" she asked.

Fedoroff was in New Zealand as part of a delegation of U.S. scientists to build stronger ties with that country. She probably didn't win a lot of points, but we sure like how she takes a stand.

Federoff went on to say that anti-GM arguments could turn tragic if allowed to stand in the way of real progress in food production, as the world looks to double population over the next 30 years – especially if climate change negatively impacts now-productive growing areas.

Federoff wrote a book with Nancy Marie Brown called, "Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods." Check it out here.

See more of Federoff below.

Watch for more of Ag's Heroes in upcoming blogs.

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