Dialogue With Consumers Crucial For Changing GMO Discussion
By Liisa Vexler
The issue of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) is the subject of ongoing discussion and was an important topic at the 95th annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Use of genetically modified crops is increasing throughout the world, but at the same time there has been an increase in opposition by consumers in the USA. Cathleen Enright, Executive Vice President of BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization) spoke on this subject at one of the convention workshops.
Enright pointed out that farmers, ranchers and the biotechnology industry can influence the discussion on GMOs. In 2013, when there was a ballot on mandatory labeling of GM foods, there was widespread activity in thirty states in support of labeling, showing that the anti-GMO message is being listened to. According to Enright, “More and more organizations are working to create fear, attack agriculture, and malign biotechnology companies.” The most important factor in changing this is open dialogue with consumers so that they know the whole story.
Anti-GMO groups have a head start in establishing contact with consumers. They were pioneers in the use of social media to spread opinions and gain supporters, but biotechnology supporters are following suit. It is clear that consumers are skeptical about food containing GM ingredients and that it is important to answer their questions. As Enrich explained, "Only when our audiences understand we are listening to them will they listen to us." To address this need, BIO has launched a new website called GMO Answers that invites questions on biotechnology. The site received more than 120,000 visits and answered 404 questions in the last 6 months of 2013. All questions are answered by independent experts. Enrich thought that the website was also responsible for an increase in media interest in biotechnology.
Enrich emphasized that people need information on all aspects of GM foods so that they can make up their own minds. Whether this information comes from websites like GMO Answers or from a conversation with a local farmer, the goal is the same.