Bioengineered food has exploded into a hot-button trade issue: the U.S. Department of State is threatening to file suit as European countries balk at accepting American-grown genetically modified goods. Early input from scientists could have helped the State Department handle the policy crisis more effectively, suggests George H. Atkinson, a biophysicist at the University of Arizona. Atkinson experienced the tension firsthand when he visited Europe two years ago as a science fellow brought in to augment the agency's meager technical resources. "It's as if people are trying to communicate in different languages without access to a good translator," he says. "If you can get policymakers to understand where science is going instead of where it just went, there are opportunities to avoid major problems."
In the hopes of changing the situation, Atkinson is trying to establish a competitive fellowship program that would bring up to 20 accomplished scientists every year to U.S. agencies and embassies throughout the world. They would work closely with diplomats, then return to their labs and remain on call for special projects for another five years. Over time, a growing cadre of tenured experts with international reputations in their disciplines would retain ties to the highest levels of the State Department, helping to bind policy approaches to an awareness of science.
This article was originally published with the title From Lab to Embassy.