Ag Innovation Showcase: Renewing social licence after the GMO debate
Agribusinesses must understand consumers’ concerns before forcing innovative agriculture down our throatsShow transcript
Crispr gene editing is being called precision breeding, in part to distance the technology from the GMO label. So what went wrong with the GMO debate, and what lessons have ag innovators learned? The promise of innovation is exciting the scientific community, but the public remains unconvinced – in large part, because industry stakeholders aren’t connecting on a personal level. Registration is now open for the Ag Innovation Showcase 2017: visit www.agshowcase.com.
Rachel Haurwitz: I think there are probably a number of things that went wrong, but I think one of the key problems was the balance of power. There were a small number of very large companies who themselves did not have a lot of consumer trust, who were telling consumers they were going to have these products. And I think consumers did not react particularly positively to that.
Roxi Beck: There is a real challenge with getting the general public to understand not only what it is that we’re doing, but why.
When you are a consumer on the other side of that technology, and all of a sudden you’re trying to assess the benefits, it’s hard to do so when all of the traits have been designed for a farmer.
It can allow crops to grow in drought conditions that it couldn’t previously, that can resist pests that would wipe out an entire crop. We need to be thinking more about those crops that have a direct benefit to consumers, but also serve to meet the needs of today’s farmers.
Engaging with consumers is quite the science. The biggest takeaway is first, find a value space connection. People are highly interested in doing the right thing: for the environment, for animals, for the people who are eating the food. And I think we need to start talking about that more. Talk about our families, talk about why we’re so passionate about the work. And then, when the conversation gets further, we have the opportunity to talk about what it is that we’re doing, that reinforces why it’s so important that we do it.
Sam Fiorello: What we need to do is bring consumers and lay people together with scientists, to better articulate this efficacy and safety and the importance of a tool to help meet our challenges.
Rohit Shukla: It’s easy to have a conversation entre nous; to convince ourselves of the greatness of our achievements. It is far more difficult to be able to then get our stakeholders to understand that this is relevant to the way they are going to live. The way they’re going to eat. The way they’re going to have their clothes made, etc. And I think the notion of having that kind of coalition between consumers, producers, innovators, governments, is an incredibly important one.
We cannot ignore the opportunity and the imperative to become engaged with our stakeholders.
Rachel Haurwitz: I think no one company – especially no little company – can reach all of the necessary stakeholders ourselves. And so we’re instead looking at a way to partner with a much larger number of companies, who themselves directly interact with their consumers, and their customers, and their customers’ customers, to really have a broad network of entities who are speaking to various stakeholders about the technology.
Roxi Beck: This is everyone’s responsibility. We have got to take the opportunity, when we’re asked a question, or even when scepticism comes our way and that concern comes to us, to get into a conversation. Not to reshape their opinion, but first to understand where they’re coming from.
If we first get on the same page as them, and can start understanding the world as they see it, we’re going to be much more likely to understand why it is what we’re doing really matters to them at the end of the day.