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Conference explores agriculture, climate change issues

Wednesday through Friday, April 29-May 1, 2009, various times Various locations

The Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) will host a symposium and conference Wednesday through Friday, April 29-May 1, to address challenges related to agriculture and climate change as the global population expands.

Speakers will explore the scientific, policy and ethical questions presented by the need to greatly boost food production to feed a growing world population while reducing agriculture's contribution of approximately 30 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. The event is part of PEI's Bert G. Kerstetter '66 Ethics and the Environment Lecture Series.

The April 29 symposium, titled "Agricultural Biotechnology and Sustainability," will gather leaders in biotechnology, food security, agricultural development, biodiversity conservation and environmental protection to discuss major technology and policy issues and to suggest policy options to move agricultural biotechnology forward.

The symposium will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Fields Center. It is cosponsored by the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Shanthu Shantharam, a visiting researcher in the STEP program, said the symposium is the first at Princeton to address the role of agricultural biotechnology in sustainable development.

"The dawn of modern agricultural biotechnology based on gene-splicing techniques has ushered in nothing short of a revolution in agriculture. Yet there is a nagging debate about its safety, utility and sustainability, particularly for the developing countries," he said. "The two-decade-old debate has compelled many countries to adopt highly stringent, if not draconian, regulations to implement the technologies. This is really hampering agricultural development in such countries. Even though there is plenty of empirical evidence to show that the technologies are safe and have beneficial impact on the environment, burdensome regulatory regimes are being erected as non-scientific and non-technical barriers and preventing the poorest of the poor from deriving benefits of the technology."

Symposium participants will discuss "fresh ideas for not only addressing the nagging safety questions, but also developing appropriate policy framework for technology implementation, partially in light of the fact global warming is expected to impact agriculture most severely," Shantharam said. "Modern biotechnology must be a part of the mix of solutions to tackle the effects of rising temperatures and drought."

The April 30-May 1 conference, titled "Feeding a Hot and Hungry Planet: The Challenge of Making More Food and Fewer Greenhouse Gases," will bring together scholars from around the world to investigate the critical food and agriculture issues surrounding projected world population growth from 6.7 to 9 billion people by 2050.

On April 30, Gary Hirshberg -- chairman, president and "CE-Yo" of Stonyfield Farm, the world's leading organic yogurt producer -- will present the conference's keynote address, "Thoughts From an Organic Entrepreneur," at 1 p.m. A debate titled "Slow Food vs. High-Tech Food -- Which Is the Path to a Cooler Planet?" will be held at 8 p.m. Both events will take place in McCosh 50. Other conference panels will be held at various locations around campus.

The conference is cosponsored by the University Center for Human Values and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The symposium and conference are open to the public, but registration is encouraged. A detailed schedule of events and registration information are available online.

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