Winston's book focuses on GM food

Jun 13, 2002, vol. 24, no. 4
By Diane Luckow

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Author Mark Winston (left) says, “We need to recognize and understand potential problems if we are to take safe advantage of the benefits.”

Scientists with a passion for writing and an ability to do it well are a rare breed. One might even wonder if they haven't been, somehow, genetically modified.

Mark Winston, an internationally recognized expert in bee biology research and a professor of biology at SFU, is one such scientist. His new book, Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone, is an engaging and illuminating examination of the issues and forces involved in the debate over genetically modified food crops.

The book's personalized writing style reflects the intense fascination Winston experienced during his two years of travel throughout Canada, the U.S. and Britain as he strove to hear and understand the divergent opinions of those who are for and against this new agricultural technology.

From a counter-culture conference at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver to quintessential Canadian and American farmhouses, from the ancient parliamentary halls of Westminster in London to high tech research labs in corporate America, Winston met and listened to scientists, farmers, executives, regulators and special interest groups.

“I started out open-minded about genetically modified crops,” he says. “I came away more confident about the promise of biology and more aware of the continued and growing need for us as a society to have a full sense of the risks and benefits.”

“If there's an area I now feel more passionate about,” he adds, “it's the need for an independent assessment of the risk factors coming out of industry - both for consumer acceptance and to regulate their use of genetic modification. We need to recognize and understand potential problems if we are to take safe advantage of the benefits.”

Overall, Winston hopes his book demonstrates that there is a middle ground of respectful conversation for this contentious issue.

As for his writing abilities, Winston doesn't know where his talent comes from. He has no formal wordsmith training but has always been an avid reader.

He says he has also learned a lot from editors during the process of writing his previous four books. “One place where science has contributed to my writing is that I'm very organized - I think the ability to organize information is an important part of the creative talent.”

Winston's new book launches on June 13, 4:30 p.m.-6:00 pm at the SFU Harbour Centre bookstore.

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