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Checkbiotech: The Meridian Institute - keeping the world up to date
Posted by: DR. RAUPP ; madora (IP Logged)
Date: July 16, 2005 08:34AM ; ;

Agricultural technology is a huge, fast growing field. With new scientific
studies being published every couple of minutes and current issues being
debated by many parties with seemingly incompatible views, wouldn?t it be
great if there were one neutral organization that would weed out the
misunderstandings? The Agriculture and Biotechnology unit of the US-based
Meridian Institute does just that, July 2005 by Tea Jankovic, Checkbiotech.

It started out modestly - a couple of professionals working together on
agricultural issues in the 1980s. Todd Barker, partner with Meridian
Institute and one of the original members of the institute, said in an
interview with Checkbiotech that the ?staff now working at Meridian were
responsible for convening and facilitating the Keystone Dialogue on Plant
Genetic Resources, which took place in the late 80s and early 90s. Since
then, Meridian has worked extensively on issues related to agriculture and
food security.?

With Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, President of the International Union for
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as its leader, the Keystone group (after the
first meeting in 1988 at the Keystone Center in Colorado, USA) brings
together representatives from governments, scientific institutes,
international corporations and non-governmental organizations, to discuss
controversial topics.

Barker added, ?In late 1999, senior staff at The Rockefeller Foundation
asked us to develop a news service that would help Meridian and Rockefeller
staff keep track of the most important news and issues related to food
security, agricultural biotechnology, bio-safety, plant genetic resources,
intellectual property rights, etc. We were especially interested in these
issues from a developing country perspective.?

These are issues brought on by the unique circumstances of our age ? having
a large and ever increasing human population to feed and the technology to
influence the genetics, the very blueprint, of organisms - circumventing

Interesting questions are bound to arise. Is transgenic food safe? Is
tinkering with the genetic material of crops, not to mention animals or
humans, ethical? Say, you have created a new kind of plant through genetic
engineering ? can you patent it?

To some people, these are more than just interesting questions. The answers
to them affect entire policies, laws, and therefore human lives. Thus the
subject matter must be addressed. Barker noted that is when Meridian steps

?Meridian provides convening, mediation, facilitation, and strategy
development services. We serve as a neutral third party that brings together
representatives from governments, companies, non-governmental organizations,
and academic institutions to solve problems and make informed decisions.

?Food Security and Ag-Biotech News is another service we provide ? in
addition to our mediation, facilitation, and strategy development services ?
that helps groups make informed decisions about the complex set of issues
related to food security and agricultural biotechnology.?

?Most of Meridian?s projects come about when stakeholders, with whom we have
existing relationships, are struggling with an issue and turn to us for
assistance. We are repeatedly approached jointly by companies, governments
and NGOs who recognize the value of bringing in an objective, third party
with expertise in helping groups solve problems.?

However, Barker continued, ?Before deciding whether to get involved, we
carefully review the issues, talk to individuals from all sectors ?
companies, governments, NGOs. In some case, we decide it would be
inappropriate or premature to get involved ? information needed for
decision-making may be unavailable, a critical stakeholder group refuses to
participate, or the incentives for making a decision may be missing.?

It?s the job of the Meridian Institute to bring together all the people with
the necessary expertise in order to have a balanced discussion on the one
hand, and to inform professionals and the public about new research on the

?Our model ? from the very beginning ? was to pick three or four of the most
important developments related to agriculture in the previous 24 hours;
these developments were summarized in one paragraph, with a link to
additional information. This meant subscribers did not have to search
through countless websites, news sources, email lists, etc. to keep track of
this rapidly evolving set of issues. ?

?The news service has also, from the beginning, strived to present balanced
coverage of the scientific developments, public policy issues, legal
decisions, public debate, related to food security and agricultural
biotechnology. In 2000 and 2001, we slowly began adding Rockefeller grantees
and others to the news service. Feedback was so positive that we made Food
Security and Ag-Biotech News public in 2002. ?

Louisa Roberts, producer of Food Security and Ag-Biotech News, Research
Associate and News Service Editor at Meridian Institute said ?Every day I
scan the Internet and other sources for relevant articles, op-eds, and
reports, and write summaries of three items for the news service. The focus
is giving subscribers to our news service the most thorough, relevant, and
balanced picture of news and issues possible, each and every day.?

Roberts continued, ?At the same time, our news summaries are generally only
a paragraph in length, so they can be read and understood quickly. This
service fits in with Meridian?s overall belief that people who have good
information make better, more informed decisions. Accurate, balanced
information can also serve to get people thinking on the same page.?

There is so much information on the topics of agricultural biotechnology and
its implications for food security in developing countries; the challenge is
constructing a comprehensible access to it. Roberts noted, ?Some problems
are that the information is dispersed through many different outlets and
often couched in very different types of language. Sometimes the information
is overly general or repetitive for someone who?s familiar with the field.
It can also be unclear, lacking in contextualizing details, or slanted to
different points of view. ?

?With Food Security and Ag-Biotech News, we try to deal with these problems
by identifying all the relevant information, whether it?s about a new
scientific development or an important current of opinion, and presenting it
in a consistent, balanced language and format.?

Barker added, ?Meridian is known for its: expert process design and
facilitation; understanding of and experience with policy development and
implementation; ongoing working relationships with diverse stakeholders;
and, in-depth substantive understanding of substantive issues. While we work
at the local, national, and international levels, the amount of
international work continues to expand. Meridian has 27 staff [members].?

There are few companies like the Meridian Institute, offering mediation
services, ways to hold conferences and focus groups via internet and
creating a fertile environment for dialogue between very different parties.
It is a new kind of company, rising to the needs of a new and increasingly,
globalized world.

Additional information at [], the official
website of the Meridian Institute

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