STORY BY: Kristen Oaks-White
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are a hot topic in agriculture, one that creates strong opinions on both sides of the issue.
What happened, though, when world-renowned environmentalist Mark Lynas started looking into the issue after years of being against GMO use was an argument based in facts, not just opinion. Lynas shared his transformation from an anti-GMO activist to a biotechnology advocate during a featured workshop at the recent American Farm Bureau convention where he told the audience how he changed his mind when he came face-to-face with the science supporting biotechnology.
“As a scientist, you must have data to back up what you’re saying,” Lynas said. “I realized I wasn’t holding myself to the same scientific standards on GMOs as I applied to my research on climate change. You can’t pick and choose where you use science to back up your argument—you have to be consistent.”
Lynas now believes that GMOs are a vital tool to help farmers around the world feed a growing population. Even with this impetus and clear scientific support, he acknowledged that it’s challenging to change the public’s perception on GMOs.
“Transparency on GMOs will help dispel fears,” Lynas said. “People assume something is risky if they think information is being withheld from them”
That argument echoed the theme of another AFBF convention workshop focused on building consumer trust through transparency. The Center for Food Integrity’s Charlie Arnot told a packed audience that transparency is no longer an option for farmers and ranchers— consumers want to know how their food is grown.
Arnot said with an army of non-credible sources like Dr. Oz and the Food Babe spreading fear about food production to consumers, farmers need to bridge the gap and tell their side of the story.
As for Lynas, he said the road to changing these perceptions will be long and difficult, but there is hope. Just like farmers use tools to farm, he suggested they use social media tools to change minds about agriculture.
“My only advice to farmers would be to actively use social media because I think it is probably the most effective tool that you have,” Lynas said. It’s a new tool to reach consumers directly and I think that farmers are a credible and trusted voice in this debate.”