Law and Biotech: Q&A with Drew Kershen

Written on 08/24/2018
Alex Martin

Drew Kershen, a retired professor of agriculture biotechnology and policy law at the University of Oklahoma (OU), highlights the importance of biotechnology.

Seed World: What are you currently reading?

Drew Kershen: “The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters,” by Karl Rove. The book is a good history of politics in the late 19th century, but I actually chose to read it because it is dedicated to an OU historian, H. Wayne Morgan (a friend of mine) and because my children attended and my wife taught at McKinley Elementary School in Norman. Years ago, my wife and I bought a framed photo portrait of President McKinley for the main hallway of the school.

SW: Now that you’re retired, how do you fill your spare time?

DK: The OU Law School very kindly provides an office to its retired faculty. I go to my office almost every day to work on projects in agricultural biotechnology law and water law, so I am retired but still active in my fields of study. However, a new hobby that I began upon retirement is thematic stamp collecting. For example, I have put together a collection of philatelic items related to genetics and plant breeding. To my surprise, there are a good number of stamps and philatelic items on this theme.

SW: Favorite part about teaching?

DK: Students are a professor’s legacy. I take pride in seeing the marvelous and interesting accomplishments of my former students. While their achievements are due to their own efforts, discipline and intelligence, I feel satisfaction that in some small way I helped prepare them for professional success.

SW: You began focusing on agriculture biotech law in 1997. What are some of the highlights within the past 21 years?

DK: Three highlights: 1) The rapid adoption of agricultural biotechnology by farmers around the world, the fastest technological adoption in agriculture ever according to most commentators; 2) The scientific advances in biological understanding and breeding techniques for plants, animals and food (gene- editing techniques and synthetic biology); and 3) the continuing contentiousness about agricultural biotechnology, despite the rapid adoption and scientific advances.

SW: What is the most important thing a consumer should know about ag biotech?

DK: Agricultural biotechnology is an essential component for the sustainable agriculture of the future. Agricultural biotechnology provides opportunities for improved health, safety, nutrition and environment today and, most importantly, for the future. In the years to come, agriculture needs to produce more food, feed and fiber with fewer resources to lessen the impact even while human population and demands increase.

SW: Any advice for students pursuing law with a focus on agriculture biotechnology and policy?

DK: Agricultural law and policy, including biotechnology and sustainable agriculture, will be just

as fascinating and important in the remainder of this century as it is today. Students interested in this field should be able to find challenging and rewarding careers.