As a farmer, I have had the opportunity to hear concerns about how we raise our food. Many times I have been asked if I am an organic farmer or where they can buy my products. It seems the majority of consumers that have come into contact with a farmer have only done so through farmers markets. There the consumer meets the producer, develops a relationship and trust is built in the product as well as in the producer.
When I direct the conversation towards questions about GMOs I am often met with a negative reaction. GMOs are associated with big companies and big farmers out to make money. Using science, facts and figures about the many benefits of GM seeds falls on ears that don’t trust the research because they don’t trust the people using it or developing it.
This disconnect between the conventional farmer and the consumer didn’t happen overnight, but it has grown into a movement. When people join a movement they take responsibility in promoting and advocating the message. Small farmers and organic foods have become a movement that deserves to be respected as we search for ways to incorporate trust of conventional food production.
Perhaps we can focus on education and transparency as we strive to improve consumer trust in GM foods. Fear will always be used as a tool to place doubt about the safety of GM foods so it is essential to put fears to rest by coming up with creative ways to develop trust.
Websites are an important tool in education but they are not very personal. Personal stories seem to resonate the most when connecting people to ideas. When we went through the farm crisis of the 80s the public at large had great empathy for farmers because faces of families were involved in the reporting. Putting faces on farming will be important if we want to create a movement that supports conventional farming.
Moving from fear and distrust to dialogue means that both parties have to be willing to listen. As we listen to the concerns the consumer has about GMOs it will help if we are understanding rather than defensive. As long as food is plentiful we will have more of a challenge to show the value of increased crop yields. The reality of shrinking farm acres, water usage and chemical runoff can help us portray the positives of GMOs as the right thing to do right now for the environment. How we share that message and tell our story will be critical to the future of GMO development.