Taking center stage at the 2015 edition of Farming for Success, Andrew Frankenfield with the Penn State Extension, is also a produce grower. Frankenfield told those in attendance, “My customers want to know — ‘Is this Bt sweet corn or Monsanto sweet corn?’” After seven years, this is the first year he is actually not growing Bt sweet corn because, as he says, technology isn’t as effective any more and the seed is nearly twice as much.Frankenfield wants to know what do the customers really know, do they know what crops even have the potential for GMO? A recent survey conducted in Colorado in which about one third of the respondents said that GMO foods are almost always or usually safe. Only 20 percent said that they are never safe and the rest said they weren’t sure. Frankenfield said that group of ‘uncertains’ – nearly 50 percent – are the “one we want to target. “The 20 percent who say that GMOs are always unsafe think the rest of the world feels that way. The public is basically disagreeing with the scientists. Scientists, 88 percent of them, think GMOs are safe to eat; only 37 percent of the public believes that. We know the facts! We have the science behind us, but it’s the emotion from the public we’re trying to encourage”, he said.
In other words, the public has heard the facts that have tons of studies to support those facts. But it is the fear and emotion that is often a concern. People exercise these same fears and are divided about climate change and vaccines that cause autism, all of which are surrounded by clear facts and science. It is belief of those facts that is incredibly weak. What prevents people from seeing the facts as something positive or good? “It comes back to our protective instincts,” said Frankenfield. “If a GMO is made by Monsanto, the public isn’t sure about supporting that, as if Monsanto has all the GMO products.
Lastly, better safe than sorry. “Yes, maybe there are proven benefits but we better stand clear of that because we’re not 100 percent sure of that.” According to Frankenfield, prevailing myths about GMOs have it that they are too new, unsafe. The truth behind the myth is that they are among the most regulated products in the industry. Nearly 2,000 peer-reviewed studies are testimony to that. GMOs are no more or less risky than conventional products. Other myths are that GMO foods are unhealthy and bad for the environment. Many studies with animals and GMO crops have been undertaken which concluded that there was no effect on their health or behavior. “The public has the facts out there but that isn’t working,” said Frankenfield.
He also notes that due to other sources often not being quite truthful, you might want to consider telling your own story. “You can talk about how your farm operates and why you use GMO crops. Consider using social media to do that. Also, don’t be afraid of going to a school to talk to kids about what you do. You are looked to as the expert. You are part of the one or two percent of people in the country involved in agriculture. Don’t be scared of the questions you’re going to get; they won’t be things you can’t answer. Maybe you can host an open house at your farm. That might be the only chance someone has to see animals or hear about crops that you raise. Take pictures, take videos, which have become a lot easier today with our phones, and share those as well.”
One final thought Frankenfield put forth was to try not to splinter agriculture, “Try not to put down other methods that are in force elsewhere. Always take the higher road. Everyone needs to work together because ag is a minority group already, and if we start splitting ourselves up into categories, that makes it even worse for our industry.”
Frankenfield sees certified organic products that have non-GMO labels, but believes the public doesn’t understand. “It comes down to education, I personally think that people who tend to buy it will buy it because they think it’s a safer product. Another thing is that if we label it, there are going to be a lot of products that won’t be eligible for the non-GMO, right? That, in turn, will start to show how many out there do have some GMO in them.”