Communicating the benefits of bioscience
Science communication is more important now than ever. The agriculture industry is up against an aggressive and well-funded ‘demarketing’ campaign which has been in motion for decades. Social media has given it even sharper teeth. This has created unwarranted fear of effective agricultural technologies, such as genetic engineering and vaccines, even though thousands of studies have proven them safe.
In hindsight we can say that perhaps mistakes were made in the beginning; that the ag companies should have been more transparent and given consumers more information. But even in the early days there were groups working to educate the public and explain the science (including Ag-West Bio). Activists, on the other hand, were using emotion—burning crops and showing scary pictures of corn cobs with fangs and tomatoes speared with syringes. It’s a battle of facts and logic against pseudoscience and misinformation.
Human beings are complex. When we don’t have (or don’t understand) information, we make decisions based on gut feelings. For most of our existence we were not at the top of the food chain; being wary kept us alive (maybe it’s ‘just a shadow’… but what if it really is a tiger!). Today, even though most of us don’t face threats from predators, our brains are still wired for danger.
As the global population grows and the climate changes, genetic engineering can help our scientists quickly develop crops adapted for the changes. In animal agriculture, certain technologies can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce food using fewer resources. If the public doesn’t accept these technologies, scientists will be limited in what tools they can use.
Some positives have come out of the scrutiny. The industry has been continuously evolving and improving its practices; the public attention has motivated everyone to review, make corrections if necessary, and think of creative ways to tell consumers the story of a safe, sustainable agriculture system.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture has a unit dedicated to improving public trust which monitors these issues, develops strategies and offers grants for projects in the area of agriculture awareness. The Ministry also supports organizations such as Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan and Agriculture in the Classroom Saskatchewan, which work to deliver the message that our food system is trustworthy and sustainable. Ag-West Bio is happy to support the efforts of these organizations by promoting their programs and partnering when appropriate.
How do we get our messages out to the general public and not just talk amongst ourselves? As organizations and individuals, we need to boast about our industry to everyone we know. And we need help from those who have a deep understanding of human nature: the marketing experts. This will require strategy, a concerted effort and resources. We need to work together.