April 25, 2016

Facing the Facts about GMO

As farmers, we see the value and usefulness of biotechnology. Biotech is the farmer term for what food eaters know as GMOs.

The misfortune around biotechnology/genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) is that food eaters are unsure of what GMOs really are and farmers don’t always know how to talk about it. The seed companies are great at explaining the science, but food eaters really don’t want to hear it from them.

Growing more with less

For farmers, biotechnology is a useful tool in their toolbox of resources for growing more food sustainably. To them, that means using fewer pesticides and fertilizer, and fewer times across the field meaning less fuel. It also lets them grow crops that may be resistant to pesky pests that have damaged their crops in the past.

“As a farmer, I see biotechnology as huge investment into growing enough food for a growing world with fewer resources,” says Jay Reiners, a farmer near Juniata, Neb., who serves on the NCGA Trade Policy & Biotech Action Team and is a director on the NeCGA Board. “From drought resistance to disease resistance to insect resistance, we can grow more corn, soybeans or other food sources in a more sustainable way.”

As farmers, they see the usefulness of GMOs, but how can it be better explained to food eaters?

Jay Reiners, photo from Omaha.com
“I think the reason biotech is misunderstood is because as an industry we haven't explained what biotech is good enough from the beginning,” says Reiners. “We assumed that the public wouldn't have a problem with it because the government said it was safe. Now we are on the defense against false information.”

This challenge hasn’t resolved overnight, but farmers and farmer-driven movements are aiming to do a better job at directly conversing with food eaters through programs that get them in front of food eaters – not an easy task when you think about it. Some farmers have direct access to their customers at farmers markets. But commodity farmers who don’t directly market their grain through farmer’s market, don’t have the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with their customers.

So programs like CommonGround, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) and more have been started from the ground up (meaning started by farmers) to help give farmers and ranchers alike an opportunity to be in front of the public.

Women to women

CommonGround is a movement of farm and ranch women who volunteer their time to share about where food comes from and how it is raised. It was started in 2009 (Nebraska was one of the pilot states!) and has now grown to 19 states and growing + over 180 volunteers! These women involved volunteer their time and the CommonGround program (funded by farmer checkoffs) helps setup opportunities for them to be in front of food eaters – like dietitian conferences, grocery-store conversations, media opportunities, food meetings, moms groups, etc.

They are moving the needle as real, credible women who are relatable to the women food purchasers, which by the way, women are the majority of people who buy food for and make health-wise decisions for their families. So it makes sense to have women farmers and ranchers, who also buy food for their families, sharing what it is that they do raising food and why they do it.

“With programs like CommonGround, we are able to help change public opinion one at a time in a personal way from a first-hand account where their food comes from,” says Reiners.

Farmers and ranchers are food eaters, too

USFRA is an organization involving more than 90 farmer and rancher-led organization and agricultural partners representing virtually all aspects of agriculture. They work together to engage in dialogue with consumers who have questions about how today’s food is grown and raised. USFRA is committed to continuous improvement and supporting U.S. farmers’ and ranchers’ efforts to increase confidence and trust in today’s agriculture. Similar to CommonGround, they want food eaters to see that farmers and ranchers are just like them – people who care about what we grow, raise and eat – and are relatable. One of their main programs is a Food Dialogues format that brings together food raiser, eaters and business together to share and solve issues we face today.

Another great resource for food eaters is GMOAnswers.com. It shares easy-to-understand messages about what GMOs are and why farmers use them. It allows for anybody to ask questions and they assure those questions are answered. They use peer-reviewed information and useful experts to answer the questions so they stay objective. Go check it out for yourself: GMOAnswers.com.

GMOs and biotechnology are not meant to be scary, secretive or subjective. They have been around for over 20 years and not one case of human illness has resulted. There are just a lot of unknowns, and we are farmers want to make sure food eaters understand why it is what we do and why we care. Let’s all come to the table to discuss GMOs and why they can be a sustainable part of our future!

Watch these videos about GMOs/Biotechnology from The Cob Squad!

VIDEO: Kernels of Truth–GMO Safety

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