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Commentary: How to Win an Argument on Biotechnology

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Chances are that, if you are involved in production agriculture, you have had a discussion with someone about biotechnology. Most likely, it centered around whether GMOs in food are safe. Odds are you did not win the argument or change the person’s mind. Yet, getting people to trust the technology we use to produce food is key to the future of agriculture. So how do you build consumer trust in GE food?

Dr. Keven Folta is an international advocate for biotechnology in agriculture. He is a scientist and educator who has been outspoken about the safety and benefits of genetic engineering and, as a result, has become a target for those who oppose this technology. Folta maintains that, for the most part, we, in agriculture, have been going about it all wrong. He notes that most who try to defend biotechnology always lead with the facts and the science. He says most consumers don’t want to hear the facts and don’t trust the science. He observed that opponents of GE food use emotion and, for anyone besides a scientist, emotion will always trump the facts.

Another suggestion Folta makes is to choose your battles. Arguing with an activist whose organization exists because of their opposition to biotechnology is not worth the time. They will never accept your position because, if they did, they would lose their job or at least their social standing. Face it folks — we are never going to convince everyone. Focus on those who are willing to listen and who do not have a vested interest in opposing biotechnology.

Folta suggests first we establish a common goal: safe food. This is a value that farmers and consumers share. Transparency is another shared value. Consumers want to know that farmers are not hiding things. Sustainability is another shared value. Consumers and farmers both want to see food be affordable and available well into the future. Sustainability is not only important here in the U.S. but worldwide, especially in developing countries. Farmers care for the environment as do consumers, so we have another shared value.

It is from these shared values that we can begin to have a dialogue about biotechnology. Folta explains that most people who oppose biotechnology see it as a threat. If we can demonstrate our shared values, biotech will be seen as less of a threat. Making biotechnology less of a threat to consumers and political leaders is vital.

Today thousands of children in Africa and the Middle East are going blind because of the lack of vitamin A in their diet. Export markets for U.S. grain in Europe and Asia are closed, and farmers in Florida are being prevented from fighting a disease that is wiping out their citrus groves. All these could be solved with biotechnology.

Winning more of those arguments about biotechnology is important and not something Dr. Folta can do all by himself. It takes more of us, addressing this issue in a better for effective way, that will lead to a gradual acceptance of science and technology by people who really matter.

 

By Gary Truitt