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GMO Answers Leaves an Impression at SXSW

March 20, 2015
On March 14, 2015, GMO Answers launched its presence at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival by hosting a lively and productive panel at SouthBites discussing transparency in our food system.

The one-hour panel was moderated by Tamar Haspel of The Washington Post, with an interactive conversation between myself, Cathy Enright, and Ben & Jerry’s Social Mission Activism Manager Chris Miller. Tamar polled the audience at the beginning of the panel and it was split evenly, with a third for, a third against and a third undecided about GMOs.

Farm Progress covered the panel discussion and GMOA events SXSW:

GMO Answers this week is exhibiting at the SXSW Festival, bringing genetically modified crops to the Austin, Texas, event for attendees to experience as part of a "low tech conversation about high tech crops."

Farmers, scientists and nutritionists will answer consumers' questions about GMOs at the festival, and consumers are able to touch and feel crops made with GM seeds.

Events also included a panel discussion on Saturday between GMO Answers and Ben & Jerry's.

"At SXSW we're taking this to the next level, engaging in a dialogue with Ben & Jerry's to explore where we have common ground on transparency, surrounding agriculture, the environment, and the food we serve our families," said Cathleen Enright, Ph.D., spokesperson of GMO Answers and executive director of the Council for Biotechnology Information.

"We also know that many consumers have never visited a farm to see first-hand how our food is grown. We're excited to offer people the opportunity to experience GMO crops in person, and to talk to farmers, scientists and nutritionists who develop, grow or study our food and how it is grown," Enright said.

Austin American-Statesman's Addie Broyles also covered the panel:

At a panel called “Can Common Food Goals Find Common Ground?” at South by Southwest Interactive on Saturday, two people invested in this question (Are GMOs safe?/GMO Labeling) sought to explore its complexities...

Transparency in food is something that a vast majority of Americans want (some surveys say that more than 90 percent want GMO ingredients labeled), Haspel said, but what does it mean for a company to be “transparent” about what is in its product? Why do we require some information on labels (weight, nutritional content, country of origin on meat), but not other details, such as if the ingredient has been genetically modified at the beginning of its journey to your table?

“Transparency is more important now than ever,” said Enright, whose council advocates on behalf of seed and chemical companies like Dow and DuPont, but educating consumers about the food supply chain will be the most important step toward actual transparency.

Even though Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t use organic ingredients, Ben & Jerry’s has taken a stand in support of GMO labeling and is transitioning to using as many GMO-free ingredients as possible. On their website,, they are thorough with explaining why they’d like to avoid GMOs and go ever further to outline what “non-GMO” actually means. (A hint: It’s way more confusing than you’d imagine.)
“Companies ought to be really proud to stand up and say what’s in their stuff,” Miller said, adding that Ben & Jerry’s transition to GMO-free ingredients, though ongoing, hasn’t yet resulted in a price increase for consumers.

The GMO Answers exhibit was open to visitors through March 18, 2015. GMOA had a total of 18 independent and seed company experts on hand to walk consumers through the displays and answer any questions they may have.

The booth also held demonstrations on how to make a GMO/DNA extraction, leaf punches and plant breeding methods. We also provided more information on pesticides, herbicide-resistant crops and government regulations.

On Monday, March 16, 2015, GMO Answers partnered with Reddit for an "Ask Me Anything" session with myself, Brian Scott, a corn, soybean, popcorn and wheat farmer, and Connie Diekman, M.Ed., RD, LD, FADA.

Lastly, GMO Answers officially hosted a SXSW Block Party on March 17, with a "Get to Know GMOs" marketplace, where visitors were able to enjoy refreshments, potato chips fried in a healthier high oleic GMO soybean oil and can learn more about today's GM crops and the future potential of biotechnology.

For more on GMO Answers visit us at our site.