GMO Communication (Part 2): A ripe educational opportunity

Last week I shared some of the personal experiences that have shaped my understanding of GMO perceptions. This week, I will be talking about the importance of biotech champions, and some of the most important lessons we’ve learned for effectively sharing information on GMOs in a way that resonates with a wide, diverse audience.

Bridging the communications gap
In January 2015 Pew Research found that 88% of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) say GE foods are generally safe, but 57% of U.S. adults aren’t so sure.

Months earlier, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) shared that just 11% of Americans say they know “a lot” about food biotechnology and just over a third (37%) are aware biotech foods are available in stores (even though they’ve been in the market nearly two decades)! Despite this, around two-thirds of consumers said they would likely buy GE foods that provide health or environmental benefits.

It’s clear that much of the reason for public resistance to GE foods is that knowledge about them and the benefits biotech foods provide is low. And, this isn’t really all that surprising given that most biotech traits to date have focused on farmers.

neal-in-orchardFarmers make up just 2% of the population, so few people have direct connections to agriculture. Unfortunately, this makes it easy for those who may benefit from spreading false or scary messaging about GMO foods to do so.

For this reason, the importance of having reputable biotech champions who are willing to engage with the public in an accessible, effective manner is essential. Rising to this challenge, amazing scientists, farmers, dietitians and others are increasingly taking to social media, grocery stores, and classrooms to engage and educate.

You can never have too many champions, though, and for anyone looking to be part of the conversation, or hone their approach, we have some suggestions based on our own experience.

Effective communications: Gauge, then engage
We at OSF have never been shy to engage with whoever is interested in learning more about our company, biotechnology or our flagship Arctic® apple varieties. Yet, we’ve sure learned a lot since we started down this path two decades ago. To share a few key highlights…

Arctic® apples as a case study:

  • Even knowing Arctic® apples are genetically engineered, in every consumer study we’ve done the majority of participants have expressed interest in purchasing Arctic® apples
  • Understanding the concerns of the public and addressing them in an accessible manner is vital
  • Highlighting the tangible benefits that Arctic® apples offer (g., higher quality eating experience, fewer apples wasted, no need for preservatives) in a manner that resonates on a personal level helps show the value of the biotech approach better than technical, data-heavy approaches (though that info should be readily available to those who seek it, too)
  • Visuals and concise explanations of how the nonbrowning trait is introduced boosts acceptance
  • Getting to know the people behind Arctic® apples and why we’re passionate about food and farming helps consumers feel comfortable

As for general ag-biotech communications:

  • Most consumers aren’t against GMOs, but knowledge is low
  • When benefits are clear to them, acceptance greatly improves
  • Experiencing value-added traits firsthand is very impactful
  • Trust is strengthened with transparency and engagement

Arctic de-polarization
I started this process as a farmer thinking a small improvement to apples would have huge benefits and be received by eager consumers within a few years. I learned the reality was, and remains, a heck of a lot more complicated than that.

Even so, we are so excited to be introducing Arctic® apples into stores for the first time next year! We are confident they will help consumers enjoy more delicious, wholesome apples and reduce unnecessary food waste. And, thanks to our commitment to transparency and open communications, we are proud to have countless apple-lovers rooting for us and eager to try Arctic® apples.

We hope the introduction of Arctic® apples can help continue shifting the GMO conversation in a positive manner. However, the key to overcoming polarized public perceptions is to have as many reputable communicators engaging as often and as authentically as possible, educating in a manner that is both accessible and accurate while providing answers to questions and concerns.

We all must do our part; we’ll never tire of being passionate and proud of what we can accomplish. After all, we develop and grow safe, healthy food, and the more opportunity consumers have to learn about these foods and the people behind them, the more we’ll all benefit!

About Neal

You may know Neal as President and Founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, but he is also a bioresource engineer with over thirty years of experience working around the world. It was through this firsthand experience that Neal was convinced that biotechnology can help farmers meet ever-expanding global food demand.

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