Biotech- how to talk to skeptics

As agriculturists we know the terms biotech and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) contribute to positive outcomes in agriculture production.  Unfortunately, there are many consumers who do not see biotech and GMO’s as beneficial in regards to their food supply.  Once again, it is our job as agvocates to dispel the myths that biotechnology and GMO’s are detrimental to our ever growing food supply and demand.

In a previous blog regarding my attendance at the Young Farmers and Ranchers Convention in Phoenix, I briefly mentioned that I sat in on a discussion about biotechnology and would write a separate blog as the information was worthy of its own space.  The whole point of this workshop was to look at the so-called myths and prepare ourselves to explain the facts about biotechnology.  Quite literally, we need to educate ourselves.

The hardest myth to overcome is fear of the unknown.  The skeptic has read just enough to know they are lacking in the science background needed to understand the terms and concepts behind biotechnology and GMO’s.  Fear alone can create headlines and consequently a large readership. (Remember the pink slime catastrophe?)

The remaining myths are more common ones we hear on a daily basis.  These include statements like:  GMO’s are unsafe, untested, unregulated and even unnecessary. So how do we re-educate those people who believe those adjectives?  How do we get them to see the positive effect that biotechnology can have on their food supply?  Plain and simple:  What do you say?

Let’s work our way around these terms and explain what is really going on.

For the term untested– we answer that there are many studies and tests done on the food in laboratories to ensure that the products are safe for human and animal consumption.  For those who feel that GMO’s are unsafe, we discuss that safety is of upmost importance and that these products are indeed regulated through a coordinated framework that includes the United States of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Each one of these agencies monitors and regulates certain aspects of modern biotechnology.  For those who believe that biotech and GMO’s are unnecessary, we can actually use some of their eco-friendly terminology and discuss that biotechnology actually helps by reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint and in turn, actually helps the environment.  Biotechnology also increases the yield of food to feed a growing world.

Now let’s take this discussion one more step further into detail about GMO’s and whether they are good for human consumption and for agriculture in general.  With this, do you think skeptics will believe that GMOS are good for us and agriculture?  Let’s go into more detail and breakdown some of these. Those who believe that biotechnology is unregulated, let’s look at the specific roles that the EPA and FDA plays in regulation.  The EPA is involved with the safe use of pesticides, while the FDA is involved with the use of proper labeling and food safety – Truth in accuracy.

For those skeptics who believe that biotechnology is unnecessary, we need to take a deeper look into why biotechnology has expanded and how it is actually better for the environment. In real terms, biotechnology has improved tillage, soil conservation, and water quality in addition to reducing chemical use, improve pest management, reduce emission intensity, and so much more.

How do you engage in a positive discussion with someone who believes these myths?

Well the answer is very simple my friends, just strike up a conversation and if the chance comes up bring up the topic of biotechnology and I am sure that a discussion on GMO’s will result!  .  Remember the best offense is a good defense.  While getting the correct information is important to discuss, equally as important is listening to the other side’s point of view.  A two way conversation is the only way that we can be true agvocates.  If we have the right information and we discuss it at the right time, then we have a good chance of re-educating the public on the correct use of biotechnology in agriculture.  As with any area of science, agriculture will continue to use biotechnology to expand its future.  The more widely biotechnology is used, the more a part of our society it will become.

Will there be critics?  Of course, that is part of our human nature.  However, my friends, we as agvocates have a great job ahead of us :  To dispel these myths my friends!!

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