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Agriculture 101: Asking Hard Questions And Digging For Answers

August 31, 2017
Headed back to school? So is this teacher, who shares how she encourages her students to ask hard questions and dig for tough answers when it comes to science and agriculture in a new blog post for GMO Answers.

We asked one of our GMO Answers Experts to share her wish list for what she hopes students would learn about agriculture. Jillian Etress is a high school agriculture teacher and farmer’s wife from South Alabama. She is a graduate of Auburn University’s College of Agriculture where she earned her degree in Agriculture Communications.
It is my goal for students to have a broader view of the world when they leave my classroom. It is also a goal that they leave the classroom understanding basic scientific principles that govern our world and affect our food system. Practically though, I want them to be educated citizens and consumers.

In her new post, she explains how to wade through lots of false information to get the facts about GMOs, science, food, and agriculture:

There are a few things that I try to focus on with my students so that their understanding grows from year to year.

1. We focus on vocabulary.

According to the Literacy Project Foundation, 50% of American’s cannot read a book written at an 8th grade reading level. We fight the literacy battle every day in school but we also fight the scientific literacy battle. Many consumers do not possess an understanding of basic scientific principals required to make simple personal decisions. As a result, consumers pay more for things labeled with misleading wording when they could buy a nutritionally equivalent alternate for cheaper.

In my class, we focus on foundational concepts—like the difference between a hybrid and genetically modified seed as well as the science behind things like heredity, cross breeding, line breeding, bST, pST and many more. I want students to understand not only the science behind farmer and producer decisions but also the financial decisions that farmers make each time they choose a product for their farm.

2.  We focus on ethics.

After we have established a firm understanding of a concept, we talk about the reasons farmers and producers choose a particular product or practice for their farm and the possible ethical concerns they see for that practice. We talk about the YEARS of research that U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do before bringing a product to the market. We also talk about regulation—and the USDA’s official definitions for terms like organic, natural and transgenic, and how those words affect the consumer when they make a split decision to purchase a product.

3. We talk about the media.

One question I encourage students to ask is what is this advertisement, label or sticker trying to get the consumer to do and why? I encourage students to become media literate in looking for framing, bias and emotional pleas in advertising and compare that to the science they can see actual data from.

In the end, I hope my students leave asking the hard questions and digging for the tough answers and that this prepares them for a future of conquering challenges and making this world a better place for all of us.

To read the rest of Jillian's post, please visit the GMO Answers page.