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Talk GMO to Me

Using the acronym ‘GMO’ typically evokes one of two responses: love or hate.

Proponents of genetic modification technologies praise the ability to increase yields with fewer inputs and make high quality, nutritional food available to the world. Yet others still believe GMO technology is the production of ‘Frankenfoods’ inside some laboratory.

Dr. Amit Dhingra, an associate professor in Genomics and Biotechnology at Washington State University, says part of the problem is how we talk about GMOs. He spoke at our 2015 Annual Convention in Missoula last month.

“The problem isn’t that we don’t understand the science, but how we explain it to our customers.” He also discussed common barriers to sharing valid information and how they prevent farmers and ranchers from communicating with our friends and neighbors.

Here are the top three barriers to sharing valid information about GMOs

1. Using an ‘Us vs. Them Approach’
It’s easy to get defensive of our practices and lifestyle, especially when we know the information being thrown at us isn’t accurate. However, according to Dr. Dhingra, that’s the exact wrong approach to take. “We need to relate to everyone as consumers. Focus on the things that make us one.”

We’re all moms, dads, husbands, and wives who, at the end of the day, truly care about doing what’s best for our families. If we approach these conversations from this perspective and find a way to connect and relate with our customers, we’re more likely to create a positive experience.

2. Downloading Facts Can’t Counter Belief 

In fact, this approach can even backfire. There’s a fine line between defending a topic and educating about it. When we begin spewing facts and figures our audience tends to disengage because we’ve assumed a defensive attitude rather than one of listening and discussion.
“Our approach should be one of identifying shared values and goals; breaking the association between identity and factual belief,” Dhingra said.

For example, one can still be a nutrition conscious individual who supports GMOs. We need to revolutionize the way we discuss GMO technology with our customers. This approach isn’t easily mastered, it takes time and work.

3. Buying in to the Fear Mongering
As farmers and ranchers, we like to pass the buck and say GMO opponents are the only ones who ever use fear mongering as a tactic. While this may be true in some cases, those of us in agriculture need to take a hard look in the mirror and adjust our own messages at times.

Dr. Dhingra acknowledged that ignorance needs to countered, but we see time and again our approaches aren’t working. People don’t appear swayed by the knowledge that ag land availability is shrinking, yet we still have to figure out how to feed a growing world population.

Instead of being wrapped up in the giant snow ball careening down the hill, we need to adjust our own perspective. As Dr. Dhingra noted, it’s really about putting things back into perspective.

Farmers and ranchers recognize the benefits GMO technology stands to offer. But as moms, dads, home-cooks, and even concerned citizens, we need to do a better job of understanding concerns and answering questions. How do you approach a conversation about GMOs and technology in agriculture?

-Chelcie Cargill, Director of State Affairs