Punja named winner of Sterling prize

Oct 16, 2003, vol. 28, no. 4
By Susan Jamieson-McLarnon



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Simon Fraser University biologist and plant pathologist Zamir Punja, an international leader in the development of genetically modified plants, is the 2003 winner of the Nora and Ted Sterling prize in support of controversy.

The world's first genetically-engineered strains of carrot and ginseng came from Punja's pioneering research.

Throughout his career he has championed scientific evidence in the face of emotion and prejudice in an area that has lacked appropriate information and is often swamped with misinformation coupled with a lack of balanced debate.

“There has been a lot of misguided doom-and-gloom predictions about the impact of genetically modified foods on our environment and concerns regarding consumer health,” says Punja.

“Consumers have readily accepted earlier attempts at genetic alterations of crop plants because they have enhanced the quality of our food and in many parts of the world these genetic advancements have helped to stave off starvation for millions of people. Genetically modified foods are being developed with the same principles in mind.”

Originally from Tanzania, Punja did his undergraduate work at UBC and received his master and doctoral degrees at the University of California, Davis. Before joining SFU in 1989 he was a research scientist and manager with the Campbell Soup company. His research has been published widely and is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, in addition to numerous public and private sector organizations.

The Sterling prize, worth $5,000, was presented to Punja on Oct.15 at the Morris J. Wosk centre for dialogue where he spoke on Genetically Modified Foods: The myths, realities and controversies. Nora and Ted Sterling established the prize at SFU in 1993 to honour “work which challenges complacency and that provokes controversy or contributes to its understanding.”

See Zamir Punja's Comment.

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