When Media, Science and Public Policy Collide: The Case of Food and Biotechnology

October 29, 2002

This past summer, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story detailing the "scientific" case for why a high-fat diet complete with butter, cheese, and red meat is, in fact, more protective against obesity than a low-fat diet rich in carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Immediately, the Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution book shot up to number one on the Times's advice books bestseller list.

Of course, conventional wisdom, based on "science," has branded fat as the #1 culprit in obesity, and The Washington Post Health Section shot back a few months later with a piece titled "What If the Big Fat Story Is Wrong?" Where is the real science here? What is the public to believe, and more important, to do? Eat fatty foods or stay away? Eat gene-enriched corn and tomatoes, or avoid them as if they'd been grown in Pandora's Box? Take a broccoli pill to prevent breast cancer? Or do you go along with recent reports that the menus at fast-food restaurants are changing for the better?

Nowhere is this more evident than in the ongoing debate over biotechnology and, to be more specific, genetically engineered food. The debate in the late 1990s and early days of this century has been characterized by hysteria and hype, to borrow a phrase from some reporters . . . as well as some truth.

Which brings us to Cambridge in November. This full day workshop will engage the stakeholders of this debate in a discussion of how media coverage has influenced and been influenced by science, industry, policymakers and advocacy groups on the topic of agriculture biotechnology and food and human health.
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Strategic Communications

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