Findings and Conclusions from the Workshop
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on 7 December, 2004

Controversial issues of sciences were discussed at a meeting of scientists and journalists.

  1. Prof. Hajslová presented new findings from the research in food analysis in the EU framework. Results pointed mainly at problems of toxins and allergens levels in food that are common on the market. Some data made the theory that all natural is healthy doubtful.

    Some toxins may enter the consumers' bodies from foods used raw while heating does decrease their level thus making the food healthier even if the amount of vitamins also decreases. This does not relate to a potato solanin, it is thermostable. It is convenient to boil potatoes in water as solanin can leach out. As it is concentrated mainly around sprouts it is better to prepare potatoes peeled and then to pour the water away.

    Results of analysis of soy sprouts were a warning to vegetarians. Levels of harmful substances (estrogens-like substances) are higher than in soybeans and therefore they should not be consumed in larger amounts.

    Another problematic issue are allergens. Many allergens are present in food originally foreign to our population. It refers to soy, kiwi, and various nuts etc. that are now commonly used in food industry. Every individual should test his/her own sensibility to allergens. Producers (retailers) should put a label that the food contains an allergen. So far, it is not obligatory though.

    Food additives can be also problematic from the view of composition and risks,. Food market globalisation offers us many formerly unknown or unusual varieties. At present, certain control vacuum of food additives quality exists. The same refers to e.g. herbal teas. In blossoms, there are many poisons; poisonings from herbal mixtures were reported in Europe. That is why it is important to be critical when choosing food and ways of consumption.

    Science has more and more possibilities of research of food and materials composition. New methods and instrumental technology bring surprise sometimes; at other times it is confirmation of presumptions. Who consumes rich, various food is not threatened, who specializes on vegetarian food, especially on raw food, can cause oneself complications.

  2. Prof. Drobník listed some scientifically based facts and results of legislative procedure in European Union regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). On the other hand, he mentioned examples of “unfortunate” popularisation that are results of distributing of information by opponents of genetic modifications. He emphasised importance of responsibility and qualification of journalists when conveying information to the public and necessity to address experts in case that a journalist is not sure with his/her information he/she obtained e.g. from foreign media. Demand of comprehensibility for the public is rather an appeal to scientists who want to promote science. Another important issue was a recommendation to use information that are published by international renowned organisations and filter unverified information on revolutionary results of research.

    The contribution of Prof. Drobník raised a discussion and also expression of different opinions. Some drew attention to risks, connected to use of genetically modified plants, for the environment, mainly for biodiversity; to the fact that some industrial plants such as maize are not as convenient for the Czech agriculture as are in the USA; to the fact that research of GMO and impact of their use onto humankind is only in its beginning, therefore promotion of genetic modifications is not appropriate.

    Others expressed their understanding for daily-journalists who have not sufficient time to verify information that they may take up from foreign newspapers. Scientific tabloids in dailies should be scientifically correct.

    At the same time, they asked journalists to offer as many information on science as possible, but to mention also in what state the present research is and in what time horizon the final results could be reached. Major news should be consulted with experts before they are published. On the other hand, the public should receive information even if scientists have little knowledge, so that an impression of secret data does not occur.

    In research and implementation of its results it is necessary to evaluate pros and cons, e.g. risks versus economical benefits or other. This refers also to other, mainly to controversial areas of research.

  3. Prof. Sykova conveyed well-arranged information on fundaments and work with stem cells, on perspectives of research and implementation of its results and also on ethical problems related to it. She expressed satisfaction with communication with journalists in case of stem cells and medical issues in general. She recommended to publish as many scientific findings as possible, because it is her experience that people search for them, especially when it is about their health, food etc. It is though necessary to inform on present state and not raise vain hopes when it is about long-term research with uncertain results and undefined deadline. Referring to this, she emphasised importance of “Spin Off companies”, which are in western countries, especially in the USA, a well-proven model and „motor“ of implementation of research results in practical applications.
  4. Prof. Plesek focused his contribution on the lack of energy resources in the world more than on the nuclear energy and its issues. He mentioned various types of resources, their effectiveness, reserves and perspectives of consumption. In relatively short horizon global reserves of earth oil will run out; oil is at present substantial source of energy and industrial production, mainly in chemical industry. Wind, solar, water or other “natural” sources are not able to replace it. Nuclear power engineering therefore remains a very important alternative.

    Journalists asked for a copy of the speech as a very interesting source of information.

Conclusions:

bulletPeople who consume varied diet are not threatened by food.
bulletGenetic modifications are a modern technology, and as the others it has its positives and negatives. It is up to scientists to research more and find new possibilities as well as control present applications and eliminate eventual risks.
bulletResearch of stem cells is an important perspective research area, even if it has its opponents.
bulletNuclear power engineering has its future as a very important source of energy.

Appeal to scientists

bulletInform journalists on what interesting is going on in their institutes
bulletDo not be afraid to promote their results, their science
bulletOffer journalists interesting topics
bulletUse organized, unified terms that are better understandable and usable for journalists

Appeal to journalists

bulletProceed responsibly and convey qualified information to the public, authorised by scientists or renowned resources
bulletAddress scientists whether they have interesting topics for promotion
bulletPublish as many findings on present state of science as possible but not raise vain hope
bulletCooperate with relevant scientists before an important expert article is published

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