Alan McHughen

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Alan McHughen is a 2011-2012 Jefferson Science Fellows.[1] As a fellow he will "spend one year on assignment at the U.S. Department of State or U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as [a science advisor] on foreign policy issues." McHughen is "a molecular geneticist with an interest in crop improvement and environmental sustainability" and a professor at the University of California, Riverside.[2]

"After earning his doctorate at Oxford University [in 1979], Dr McHughen worked at Yale University and the University of Saskatchewan before joining the He served on recent US National Academy of Sciences panels investigating the environmental effects of transgenic plants, and a second investigating the health effects of genetically modified foods. He is now Past President and Treasurer of the International Society for Biosafety Research (ISBR). Having developed internationally approved commercial crop varieties using both conventional breeding and genetic engineering techniques, he has firsthand experience with the relevant issues from both sides of the regulatory process. As an educator and consumer advocate, he helps non-scientists understand the environmental and health impacts of both modern and traditional methods of food production. His award winning book, 'Pandora's Picnic Basket; The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods' (Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-850674-0), uses understandable, consumer-friendly language to explode the myths and explore the genuine risks of genetic modification (GM) technology."[2]


McHughen faces strong criticism from the website Lobbywatch, which notes that McHughen's "booklet 'Biotechnology and Food' was published by the American Council for Science and Health, which has been described as an 'industry front group that produces PR ammunition for the food processing and chemical industries.'"[3] The critique continues:

"In 'Pandora's Picnic Basket' McHughen argues that many of the concerns about genetic engineering are based in reality on 'myths' and 'misinformation'. McHughen has even claimed, 'Opponents to GM put forward untenable pseudo-scientific assertions, then run away, unwilling or unable to defend their positions.'
"Yet 'Pandora's Picnic Basket' contains a number of 'untenable pseudo-scientific assertions'. For instance, on p.233 we read, 'According to Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute the highly respected US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta noted 2471 cases, including 250 deaths, of infection by the unpleasant E. coli strain O157:H7 in 1996 alone. These bacteria live in manure. Manure is used as a fertilizer in organic farming systems. Organic foods were implicated in about a third of the confirmed O157:H7 cases despite the fact that organic food constitutes only about 1% of food consumed in the US.'
"In fact, according to Robert Tauxe, M.D., chief of the food borne and diarrheal diseases branch of the CDC, there is no such data on organic food production in existence at their centers and he says Avery's claims are 'absolutely not true.' Avery's claims have repeatedly been debunked with even Gregory Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute commenting that, 'looking at a few selectively reported cases from a single year doesn't seem to be convincing anybody who doesn't already have a predilection to believe you in the first place.'"[3]

He has also faced critique from blogger and author Jill Richardson, who criticized McHughen for saying:[4]

"Yes DNA certainly is a chemical but it’s present even in ordinary tomatoes. H2O is a chemical, but we need that chemical obviously and we eat DNA all the time even though it’s a chemical. It’s natural and it’s everywhere. It’s in all of our foods. For some people getting them to grasp it is a really difficult challenge...
"We also mix genes in recipes. And again people think that there’s some kind of sin, natural sin about mixing genes together - proteins from different species - but almost all of our recipes are mixtures of different species, are they not? And I sometimes use the example of fish chowder stew in which we have both tomatoes and fish genes mixed up all at the same time in one bowl of stew." - Alan McHughen, BIO 2008, San Diego

Richardson wrote:

"What's the difference between mixing tomato and fish DNA in a chowder vs. putting a fish gene in a real tomato? For one thing, humans have been making fish chowder for a few centuries at least. Any risks would have been apparent already.
"Also, when you mix fish and tomato DNA in your chowder, you aren't sending a message to either the fish or the tomato to make certain proteins.
"When you mix fish and tomato DNA in a chowder, you aren't impacting the ecology of where the fish once swam or the tomato once grew. The insects that pollinated the tomato and the microbes that lived in symbiosis with the tomato are unaffected. That tomato won't pollinate any other tomato plants, thus inserting fish genes into other varieties of tomatoes... possibly in the gardens of people who do not want fish genes in their tomatoes.
"So there's an example of the kind of pro-biotech argument that was thrown around in the name of science, supposedly by people who "know better" than the rest of us."


Selected Publications

  • McHughen, A. 2008. The science of fear, by Dan Gardner. Nature Biotechnology 26: 1226 (book review).
  • McHughen A. 2008. Undermining scientific credibility . GENETIC ENGINEERING & BIOTECHNOLOGY NEWS Volume: 28 Issue: 15 Pages: 6-+ SEP 1 2008
  • Roger N. Beachy, Nina V. Fedoroff , Robert B. Goldberg, and Alan McHughen. 2008. The burden of proof: A response to Rosi-Marshall et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. February 19, vol. 105 no. 7 E9
  • Smyth S, McHughen A. 2008. Regulating innovative crop technologies in Canada: the case of regulating genetically modified crops. PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY JOURNAL Volume: 6 Issue: 3 Pages: 213-225 Published: APR 2008
  • McHughen A, Smyth S. 2008 US regulatory system for genetically modified [genetically modified organism (GMO), rDNA or transgenic] crop cultivars. PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY JOURNAL Volume: 6 Issue: 1 Pages: 2-12 Published: JAN 2008
  • Chassy B, Moses V, McHughen A, and V. Giddings. 2007. GM soybeans - revisiting a controversial format – Response. NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY Volume: 25 Issue: 12 Pages: 1356-1358 Published: DEC 2007
  • McHughen, A. 2007. Global governance of food and agriculture systems. Reba Carruth. Journal of Commercial Biotechnology. 13:311-312. (Book review)
  • McHughen, A. 2007. Fatal flaws in agbiotech regulatory policies. Nature Biotechnology. Vol. 25: p.725-727.
  • McHughen, A. 2007. Toppling the organic house of cards. Alex Avery. Nature Biotechnology. Vol. 25: p.522-523. (Book review)
  • McHughen, A. 2007. Public perceptions of biotechnology. Biotechnology Journal. 2:1105-1111.
  • McHughen, A. 2006. Problems with the Cartagena Protocol. Asia Pacific Biotech. 10: 684-687.
  • McHughen, A. 2006. The limited value of measuring gene flow via errant pollen from GM plants. Environmental Biosafety Research. 5:1-2.
  • McHughen, A. 2006. Plant genetic engineering and regulation in the United States. Agricultural biotechnology in California series, University of California, ANR, publication 8179. 5p.
  • McHughen, A. 2006. Genetic engineering and testing methodologies. Agricultural biotechnology in California series, University of California, ANR, publication 8190. 5p.

Book chapters:

  • McHughen, A. 2008. Regulations and Biosafety. Pp 291-310. In: Neal Stewart, ed. Plant Biotechnology and Genetics. Wiley
  • McHughen, A. 2008. Learning from mistakes: missteps in public acceptance issues with GMOs. In: David, K. and Thompson, P.B. (eds) What Can Nanotechnology Learn From Biotechnology? Elsevier: Burlington, MA.
  • McHughen, A. 2007. Public Science in Liberal Democracy: The Challenge to Science and Democracy. Pp. 194-204. In: Porter and Phillips, eds. University of Toronto Press.

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. Adam Fagen, Plant biologists named as Jefferson Science Fellows," August 27, 2011, Accessed October 21, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 UC Riverside Faculty Directory, Accessed October 21, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lobbywatch, Accessed October 21, 2011.
  4. An Intimate Gathering of Eco-Terrorists, DailyKos, June 20, 2008, Accessed October 21, 2011.

External Resources

External Articles