THE BIOTECHNOLOGY sector should stop trying to use science and information to push its message surrounding genetically modified food and instead work on winning consumer trust according to the chief communications officer with global biotech giant Intrexon.
Speaking at last week’s Australian Grains Industry Conference (AGIC) Jack Bobo said the GM lobby needed to personalise its message to consumers rather than lecture them on the overarching benefits of GM technology.
“It’s about the scientist as a story-teller and personalising the message – if they get the ‘why’ of what you are saying they don’t care about the ‘what’,” Mr Bobo said.
“The critical thing is starting a dialogue with people that don’t trust the message and how to go about this is more important than what you are talking about.”
He said he believed the major breakthrough in consumer acceptance of GM would come when a trait came that delivered a better product than the conventional one.
“It is unlikely to be in the grains sector, where the food is generally processed before being consumed, but something like an apple that doesn’t go brown, that could be a real winner with consumers, and have them actively seeking the GM product.”
“The key is to get consumers focusing on the benefits for them, rather than the negatives or perceived risks.”
Mr Bobo said farmers were selling food into markets in the western world where food insecurity was a distant memory.
“We don’t have food hunger in the US, in Europe, in Australia anymore, people’s requirements have changed, rather than simply requiring adequate food supplies they now want a food experience when they are eating.”
Mr Bobo said farmers could take a more active role by talking about the environmental benefits of GM.
“There are stories there to be told, to show they care about the land rather than just profits.”
He said better engagement with consumers was critical in terms of ensuring the best operating environment for those producing GM crops.
“I am science optimist and think there are more breakthroughs to be made but I am a regulatory pessimist and am not sure what opportunities will be out there.”
“As part of that, it is critical those within the industry don’t just sell the technology to consumers but take them on the journey as to why it is worthwhile.”
Mr Bobo’s comments come as the Australian Productivity Commission (PC) argues that all moratoria on GM food crops should be scrapped.
In its report the PC found there was no justification for the bans, which are still in place in South Australia and Tasmania.
Partial bans are still in place in NSW and Western Australia, although GM cotton and canola are allowed.