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Science Over Fiction: GMOs for Public Good

January 18, 2018
Devex reporter Lisa Cornish recently kicked off a four part series examining all sides of the GMO debate. In her first installment, Cornish starts by focusing on the science behind GMOs, explaining that the scientific community is one of the biggest proponents of GMO use.
Aside from the corporations profiting from GMOs, scientists are one of the most vocal groups in favor of the use of GMOs. In June 2016, 129 Nobel Laureates signed a letter urging Greenpeace to re-examine and abandon their campaign against GMOs. In their letter, they argue that there has never been any evidence of health issues associated with GMOs and the impact on the environment is less harmful than traditional agriculture. They also noted that GMO has the potential to greatly reduce death and disease from issues such as Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.

Today, scientific research continues to find no health risk from GMOs and scientists are being urged to engage on the debate.

However, even with the support from the scientific community, organizations focused on marketing and promoting non-GMO products have been able to infiltrate public perception, creating an uphill battle for GMO advocates in reversing public opinion. Dr. Hugo Alonso, a researcher in plant genetics and physiology, explains his frustrations over the negative perceptions of GMOs:
Despite there being strong arguments for GMO to support the needs of the developing world, the perceptions of the developed world dominate — and GMO-free branding on products means consumers are more likely to be educated on why they need to avoid GMOs. It is a difficult education cycle to compete against. Combined with supermarkets full of food, Alonso said it is difficult to explain to consumers in developing countries why creating more food should be an important issue to them.

Cornish, and the scientists she interviewed for her coverage, argue that to change public perception GMO advocates should focus their messaging on the public good. Once consumers start to understand the global benefit of GMOs, such how it can help us achieve global food security, perceptions will likely shift.  As evidence, the documentary Food Evolution, which explores both sides of the GMO debate and illustrates the social and community benefits in places like Hawaii and Uganda, seems to be reversing public opinion already.
At a screening at the Australian National University in Canberra last September, the audience were asked about their perspective on GMOs before the film — displaying a red, orange or green card to say if they were against, undecided or for GMOs. Red and orange dominated.

After the screening they were asked the question again — and a significant number were changed to green.

Read the full article here.