Team:TU Munich/Human Practice/Politics


Panel Discussion with Local Politicians about GMOs in Food

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On September 18th, 2012, about 100 people followed our invitation to an insightful evening about “genetic engineering in food”.

This event was of high importance because the vast majority of the German people are suspicious of genetic engineering. Scientific articles as well as the daily press have been reporting about the overall negative public perception towards genetic engineering in Germany over the last years [1] [2]. In particular people are afraid of genetic engineering in food. Our project intends to brew a beer with genetically modified yeast. Keeping in mind that beer has a long tradition in Germany and that Germany is proud of its German purity law [3], our team expected to face some rejection from the broader population. Many discussions leading up to the information event revealed that oftentimes people lack fundamental knowledge about genetics. Therefore, they can hardly evaluate the pros and cons of genetic engineering themselves and reject this new technology completely.

Therefore, our team decided to host an information event on “genetic engineering in food”. During the introductory presentation two of our team members gave a talk on synthetic biology, iGEM and our project (“iGEM’s first and finest SynBio beer”). Dr. Schenkel, working for the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, gave the second talk. He explained the complex regulatory system for genetic engineering in Germany and the European Union. A third inspiring presentation by Prof Wenzel underlined the advantages of genetic engineering. From a global perspective he argued for the usage of genetic engineering in food.

A panel with discussion with scientists and local politicians came next. As politicians can influence the legislative framework concerning genetic engineering, the discussion offered a good chance to gain an understanding of how politicians think about the topic. Prof. Skerra moderated the discussion with the following panelists: Prof. Wenzel, Prof. Schwab, Dr. Schenkel, Mr. Warlimont, Dr. Pause, Dr. Alberti and Mr. Morath. The politicians declared that they do not fundamentally oppose genetic engineering. Instead they recognized the potential advantages of the technology. However, they underlined that it is necessary to communicate these advantages to the general public. People need to be more integrated and informed about the technology and its development process. Otherwise they do not perceive the necessity to accept the small but existing remaining risks of genetic engineering and feel that some large companies try to maximize their profits at the expense of the general public. Therefore, the vast majority does not support genetic engineering in food at the moment.

Hosting this event was very informative for all of us and it turned out once again that our SynBio beer is an excellent way to inform people about genetic engineering.


  • Prof. Dr. Gerhard Wenzel

Former dean of science centre Weihenstephan (TUM)

  • Prof. Dr. Wilfried Schwab

Professor at the Chair "Biotechnology of Natural Products" (TUM)

  • Dr. Werner Schenkel

Working at the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety

  • Peter Warlimont

Teacher, politician (SPD)

  • Dr. Heino Pause

Doctor med., politician (FW).

  • Dr. Martin Alberti

Working at "Frauenhofer Institute" in Munich, politician (FDP)

  • Volker Morath

Student, representing the iGEM Team TU Munich

  • Moderation: Prof. Dr. Arne Skerra

Ordinary of the Chair "Biological Chemistry" (TUM)