GMO advocate says growers should tell their stories

06 Jul, 2016 11:21 AM
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ORGANIC CALL: A screenshot from Only Organic's video, New MacDonald, in which a group of school children sing about a shift from chemical and hormone use to free-range and chemical-free farming.
ORGANIC CALL: A screenshot from Only Organic's video, New MacDonald, in which a group of school children sing about a shift from chemical and hormone use to free-range and chemical-free farming.

MAINSTREAM agriculture is under assault with the public's view of farmers being skewed by activist groups.

It was a passionate and forthright message from American guest speaker Jon Entine at the 2016 National Horticulture Convention on the Gold Coast in June which included the above statement.

The award-winning journalist and University of California Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy senior fellow is the founder of the Genetic Literacy Project, a non-government organisation aimed at educating the public on the intersection of human and agricultural genetics.

He took to the stage at the convention in defence of "big ag" while also providing examples of campaigns from around the world that are attacking conventional farming practices.

"You have a great commitment to feeding the planet but that's not the way the industry is being seen," Mr Entine said.

He updated the audience on United States government plans to enforce labelling of products containing genetically modified organisms (GMO).

He said part of the push was brought on by the organics industry in order to be able to label their products "non-GMO" which in itself could become a marketing tool.

"There is an attempt to label anyone growing GMO crops, to lump them in as part of a corporate culture," he said.

"I'm not here to throw aspersions on the organic community but the organic sales have been driven over recent years on the back of the demonisation of conventional agriculture."

He showed a 2015 YouTube video called "New MacDonald" by the group Only Organic which shows a school group presenting a school musical to the music of Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

In it, the group sings about Old MacDonald having cows with a "hormone here and a hormone there" and spraying crops "with some GMOs here and a pesticide there".

It then presents the children singing about New MacDonald who embraces free-range grazing and non-chemical production.

"It doesn't matter if you use GMOs or not- you will be seen as a proxy to 'big agriculture'," Mr Entine said.

"Yield matters, not just from a productivity point of view but from a sustainability point of view."

Among the information presented was a statement from the US National Academy of Sciences which concluded in a detailed report that genetically engineered crops have not caused increases in cancer, obesity, gastrointestinal illnesses, kidney disease, autism or allergies, and that there are "no differences that would implicate a higher risk to human health from eating GE foods than from eating their non-GE counterparts".

Mr Entine made the point that while the term GMO has drawn a stigma, gene editing presents a new front with huge potential.

Genome editing is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted or replaced in the genome of an organism using engineered nucleases.

Mr Entine said gene editing has lower barriers for innovation and is much less expensive than full genetic modification.

Presently, it appears gene-edited products will not require labelling in the US.

Mr Entine was involved in the development of the non-browning apple strains, known as Arctic apples.

The trait is created by silencing the enzyme that causes apples to brown when bitten, sliced or bruised.

Apple varieties such as Golden Delicious and Granny Smith can be enhanced with the technology.

He said it was an example of gene editing that experienced few hurdles from the public or government.

"That sailed through the US regulatory action," he said.

He encouraged the audience to become spokespersons for their industries.

"Social media now sets the tone on how we perceive things. We are often reported in social media and reflected on in main media," he said.

"I really urge you to think about framing the stories that you know are true, the sustainability benefits that you offer, the yield benefits, the productivity benefits, the concerns for world food and hunger issues- and communicate them directly.

"Actively go out and try to tell your story elsewhere, through the media and so forth.

"Ultimately, if you do not tell your story, someone else is going to tell it for you and it's not going to go well."

When asked about the best way to go about doing that he said to think carefully about how the story is told.

"Write from the perspective of a wife, a husband, a person- not a farmer. And don't disparage people who are critical of it," he said.

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FarmOnline

Ashley Walmsley

is the editor of Good Fruit and Vegetables.
Date: Newest first | Oldest first

READER COMMENTS

wtf
6/07/2016 12:37:36 PM

How are farmers meant to defend the safety of their produce when it is neither their area of expertise nor publicly available?. Perhaps farmers and activists will realise they are been used as a battering ram to complete the divide and conquer strategy that these crooks use. The ones u should be talking to are the ones who give u your orders Mr Entine, not wasting time trying to stir up trouble.

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