- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* 'New Yorker' Cartoons
* Malevolent Metaphors: The Misrepresentation of Genetically Modified Foodstuffs? - Bev France
* Food for Thought - Chris J Leaver
* Public Communication on The Food Chain, The Foundation of Global Progress - Christine M Bruhn,
'New Yorker' Cartoons on GM Food
A Fun(ny) Link: Sent by Andrew Apel
The Misrepresentation of Genetically Modified Foodstuffs?
- Bev France, , Australasian Biotechnology, Oct/Nov 2001; Vol 11, No. 5, pp 40-41 http://www.ausbiotech.org (*Auckland College of Education, Principal lecturer, Science and Technology Education Auckland, New Zealand) (Thanks to David Tribe, Editor of Australasian Biotechnology for his help with getting this piece to AgBioview)
The biotechnology community has found it difficult to communicate positive images of biotechnology to the public. This article analyses the underlying causes for the rejection of GM food by the public and suggests how this situation might be remedied.
Introduction: In New Zealand there is a growing perception that the biotechnology industry has lost the genetic modification debate. I felt this strongly when I was one of seventeen asking for the scientists' perspective to be heard at the anti-GM rally in Auckland on 1st September 2001. Ten thousand New Zealanders held opposing views and they gave notice that they did not want anything to do with GM. Their vehemence against the technology was very evident not only in the banners they carried but also in the slogans they shouted.
In addition to the GM food debate there is another discussion going on. This debate has focussed on the viability of developing New Zealand as an organic primary producer. An example of this debate is Way to Grow. Why going organic could make NZ rich (Listener February 12, 2000). A political expression of this debate is evident in the Green Party's aim to have the country's primary producers 50% organic by 2020 (Ansley, 2000). It appears that such an aim is coupled with a desire to turn away from GM technology.
These debates have acquired a focus with the publication of the Royal Commission's Report on Genetic Modification (www.gmcommission.govt.nz) that provided an opportunity for all interested parties to contribute. To those in the anti-GM camp the report betrayed their contributions and this view was very evident from the banners carried by anti-GM protestors on that Saturday march.
Why has the debate been so resoundingly lost? It is important that the biotechnology community understands the reasons for these negative views so they can provide conditions for a meaningful dialogue with 'the public'. I believe that such negativity cannot be dismissed as public ignorance or the result of media antipathy. Instead it is important that all participants reflect on the nature of a debate with the 'public' in terms of the participants as well as the message.
When debating it is important to know your opposition and your audience. As this debate is public it is important that the debaters need to know not only the message they are transmitting, the nature of the opposing argument and but also their audience. The public understanding of GM issues: What is 'public'? Niedhardt (1993) describes 'public' as a communication system of speakers, audience and mediators and he defines the space where ideas are made accessible and open to scrutiny as the 'public domain'.
In relation to GM food, who are 'the speakers'? According to Niedhardt's (1993) analysis the speaker group includes civic groups, interest groups, experts and intellectuals. The speakers in this debate are scientists (The Royal Society and University spokespeople) and interest groups notably Greenpeace and the Green Party.
Who are 'the audience'? An academic definition considers them as a group of laypersons whose composition is unstable. What does this mean? It seems that many have considered the 'audience' to be 'deficit' (Miller, 1983) in their understanding of GM and consequently the role of the scientific community is to provide information to correct this situation. There are two problems with this supposition. The first problem is to assume that the 'audience' group is homogeneous and the second is the assumption that they are lacking in scientific information. Jon Turney (1998) observes that the important question is not what do the public need to know about genetic engineering but what do they want to know?
The third group are the 'mediators'. They include scientists who communicate their science, pressure groups who communicate their viewpoint and journalists who report on matters of current interest. This article uses two examples from the Listener (a weekly New Zealand magazine) to demonstrate the power of subliminal messages that accompany reasoned articles when journalists take up the role as 'mediators'. My argument is that although the articles provide a balanced account, the headlines and images transmit a subliminal negative message. For the purpose of this article these messages re called 'malevolent metaphors'.
Metaphors and especially malevolent metaphors
We all use metaphors to explain complex ideas. Its function is to explain the characteristics of something that is unknown or unfamiliar to the reader (the target) by giving it a temporary identity with an object with which the reader is familiar (the source).
In many cases metaphors can be positive. 'Clean Green New Zealand' is more than just a description of New Zealand. Instead it is a metaphor and branding for a lifestyle and environment that New Zealanders desperately what to make real. Such a metaphor is benevolent because it makes one accepting of the object that is compared.
In contrast malevolent metaphors are those where a largely negative emotional burden is transferred. The following two examples are analysed to demonstrate the nature of the metaphor that has been used to transmit this negativity.
These examples are:
* Frankenstein Food. Why you don’t know what you are eating. (Listener, March 1999)
*The Gene Genie Why genetic labelling won’t stop the GE food revolution. (Listener August 1999).
* Frankenstein Food
The front page of the Listener (March 1999) displays a perfect dew-covered tomato just picked from the vine. On the tomato is a yellow label which reads '#4064 MAY CONTAIN TOMATO'. This image signals the genetic modification-labelling debate that occurs inside the covers.
The source from which the headline is drawn is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where a 'scientist' has created a 'being'. However the later version via the television programme 'The Munsters' may be more familiar to most people. Whatever the reference there is a supposition that GM modified food is suitable for such a creature. Another interpretation infers that eating this food may turn one into a monster (Turney, 1998). Or perhaps this non-natural food may be appropriate for a non-natural being. The image portrays perfection and freshness. The unblemished tomato is gleaming with dewdrops and the stalk signals that it has just been picked from the vine.
The tomato's label works on more than one level. There is the reference to the labelling of apples by Enza that brands New Zealand exported apples. Yet there is another subliminal message that refers to Rene Magritte’s Surrealist image where the painter uses naturalistic images to illustrate that things are not as they seem. Magritte’s painting The use of words I depicts a pipe with the inscription ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’. This painting provides the viewer with an opportunity to respond to the image in many ways. It is a painting of a pipe. In addition the inscription, in French, provides us with a clue to the painter's viewpoint. In the same way the tomato is not a tomato even though it has all the appearance of ‘tomatoness’.
The image of the tomato provides all the links to images of pure, fresh food but the label prompts the viewer to mistrust the image in the same way that the Magritte painting of a pipe inspires us to look beyond the image. Partial reasonableness is swept aside with the alliterative headline of Frankenstein’s Food and the reader is prepared to approach the article with a preconceived idea that such food is potentially dangerous. The opportunity for reasoned discourse is lessened.
* The Gene Genie
The gene genie (Listener August 1999) headline appears to be a potentially benign metaphor. Images of microscopes give it a pseudo-scientific respectability and the green background provides an illusion that this product is aiming to be ‘clean and green’. The labels tell us that in addition to the material being genetically engineered it is a ‘100% food product’ while the red labelling at the bottom of the can warms us that it is ‘MYSTERY DNA WITH PROTEIN’. A ring of microscopes round the base of the can give us another reminder that this food has a scientific origin.
There are two sources for this image. The headline alludes to a genie in the bottle that is a source of potential wonders but when misused can turn against his master. The second source is the soup can which invokes Andy Warhol’s painting of 200 Campbell Soup Cans where his depiction of rows of identical soup cans provides an instantly recognisable image of the predicability of mass production.
The image and its headline provide a series of conflicting messages. This can's contents are not predictable, the label tells us it is 'mystery DNA' and it is a genetically engineered food product.. A sense of inevitability of potential disaster is evoked by the headline 'the gene genie'. What may happen when the can is opened and the genie is let out?
Yet more conflicting messages are transmitted. Although the image of the can of food is played straight the dramatic labelling written in warning red, 'Mystery DNA' overshadows its partial reasonableness. Scientific symbols are provided with microscopes but they are given a toy persona. Even though the can is sealed and therefore free of contamination the labelling cries beware. This genie is certainly inside this can floating in a blue sky.
Balancing the debate: the need for benevolent metaphors
I believe that one of the factors that have contributed to the resounding defeat of scientists as 'speakers' in the GM debate is the negative messages that have been transmitted by the 'mediators' in their headlining and illustrating of their stories. Even though the articles written by Listener journalists ' Denis Welch and Margo White (Listener, March 13-19, 1999) and Mark Revington (Listener, August, 1999) are balanced, the accompanying images illustrate a malevolent metaphor.
I hope I have demonstrated that these metaphors have the potential to provide a malevolent image. To counteract this impact 'speakers' in this debate need to generate some benevolent metaphors that provide more positive images of this technology. Although there have been many attempts to provide the 'public' with accessible information about GM and GM food for example the Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council (1999), New Zealand Royal Society and NZBA web page (www.biotech.org.nz) the images accompanying the explanation are missing or lack lustre. Does an image take the place of a thousand words?
I would argue that information need strong headlines and images to counterbalance to power of the malevolent metaphor. In New Zealand the 'audience' has been persuaded to reject GM food and GM technology. The debate rages on. It is time we used the powerful medium of visual metaphors to promote a positive beneficial story for GM food.
Ansley, B. (2000) Way to grow. Listener February 12, 2000 pp.17-19.; Miller, J. (1983) Science literacy: a conceptual and empirical review. Daedalus 112 (2) pp. 29-48.; Neidhardt, F. (1993) The public as a communication system. Public Understanding of Science 2 pp. 339-350.; Revington, M.(1999) The gene genie. Listener August 28, 1999 pp.16-20.; Turney, J. (1998) Frankenstein’s Footsteps. London: Yale University Press. ; Welch, D. & White, M. (1999) The Frankenstein Feud. Listener March 13 pp. 16-20.
Food for Thought
- Chris J Leaver, British Crop Protection Council, Bowden Lecture
(Dept of Plant Sciences, Univ of Oxford, Oxford, UK ).
'Each year, the Brighton Conference opens with a key note lecture - the Bawden Lecture named after Sir Frederick Bawden, the first President of the British Crop Protection Council. In 2001 the Twenty eight Bawden Lecture will be presented by Prof Chris Leaver, Sibthorpian Professor and Head of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, UK.'
Abstract: The world population tripled to 6 billion in the last century. The increased food production required to sustain this dramatic increase was met by the skills of plant breeders and farmers, mechanization and technological innovation by the agrochemical industry. The challenge for the next 50 years will be to improve food security and to feed a projected additional 3 billion people. To meet this demand and accommodate the need for dietary upgrading the sustainable production of food must be doubled to tripled on, essentially, the same area of land and in the face of decreasing water supplies and with respect to the environment. Crop biotechnology alone is not the magic bullet that will feed the world nor will it eliminate poverty, but examples of how this technology, together with plant breeding and improved agricultural practice, may provide solutions to some of the challenges and improve quality of life, will be discussed.
Introduction: The following is a quotation modified from comments made by Tim Radford in The Guardian newspaper on Science and the Society in which we all live: "Science may be value free but someone pays for it. So it rests on popular support. It follows that there is an obligation upon scientists to explain their science. Unfortunately there is no corresponding obligation for anyone to listen. So scientists should regard themselves as obliged to make themselves heard. They should see this as an opportunity, not just a duty. If they are going to talk to the people, they had better remember to use the language of the people. Understanding is a war of attrition, using a language that demands attention".
The following quotations concerning technology were made by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr in a UNDP Report in 2001: "Technology can be a tool for human development - the role of good public policy is to shape the course of its progress to make it happen. That public policies, nationally and globally, have so far fallen far short of that task is a compelling reason to rethink and reform, not to condemn the technology".
The Challenge: At the beginning of this century, the world’s population was estimated to be 6 billion. Seventy-five per cent of the 1,000-fold increase in human numbers since agriculture emerged 10,000 years ago occurred during the last century. The dramatic increase in population has been more than sustained by increases in crop production and there is currently enough food produced in the world to feed all its inhabitants. The ability to increase agricultural output to keep pace with population growth was due to a revolution in farming based on modern plant breeding, the extensive application of fertilisers and crop protection chemicals, irrigation and mechanisation.
On average world food supplies are ca. 25% higher per person now than they were 40 years ago and real prices are at an all time low (Pinstrup-Anderson et al., 1999). However this does not allow room for complacency and despite this apparently satisfactory state of affairs over 15% of the world’s population, some 800 million people, primarily in the developing countries, are undernourished. Malnutrition is still the major cause of death in the world and contributes to perhaps half of the nearly 12 million deaths each year of children under five. What is even more worrying is that yield improvements by conventional breeding appear to be reaching their limits and in recent years there has been a progressive decline in the annual rate of increase in cereal yield, particularly in developing countries, so that at present the annual rate of increase is below the rate of population increase (Trewavas 2001; Prakash 2001)
In the next 50 years the earths population is projected to grow at a rate of c.70 million per year, to c. 9 billion. The vast majority of the 3 billion increase will occur in the developing countries of South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa which are increasingly dependent upon imported food (c. 120 out of 160 of the worlds most populated countries are net importers of food grain, primarily from North and South America). It is estimated that by the middle of this century more than 50% of the developing worlds population will live in urban areas with the associated problems of production, distribution and stability of food products. The problem of feeding all these people is even more acute because of the uneven distribution of croplands. For example, China has a quarter of the world’s population but only 7 percent of the worlds farmland. During this period the population of the developed world will remain relatively static but there will be dramatic increase (as much as six fold) in the number of people ag
The challenge for the next 50 years will be to improve the food security of the 6 billion and feed an additional 3 billion people. There is also a growing realisation that good health and the associated increase in life expectancy is dependent upon adequate nutrition. The increasing economic prosperity in many parts of the world will lead to a demand for dietary upgrading, a higher standard of living and an associated lowering of the birth rate. To meet this demand we must double-to-triple the sustainable production of food. This increase in production must occur on essentially the same area of land currently under cultivation and cannot be met responsibly by cultivating more wilderness or extending the area of land under cultivation with the consequent loss of habitats and biodiversity.
Another major threat is the dramatic decline in water availability. This is seen by many as the single greatest threat to human health, the environment and the global food supply. It has been estimated that ca. one third of the world’s population will experience severe water shortages by 2025 and as the population grows we will become even more dependent upon irrigation for food production. Some 70% of all water withdrawals are used for agriculture, and 40% of world food production is from irrigated land with consequent progressive increases in salinity.
Finally an additional challenge facing the world is the recognition that the worlds stocks of fossil fuels, upon which we all depend, will peak within the next 10-20 years and then decline, leaving the sun as the only alternative sustainable source of energy, and green plants as the only organisms capable of harvesting that energy, by photosynthesis.
Green plants: During the last 20 years or so there has been a revolution in plant science which has allowed the skills of the plant breeder to be supplemented by the application of plant biotechnology. This revolution has resulted from an increased understanding of how cells and organisms work at the molecular, biochemical and physiological level and also from the development of techniques which allow the transfer of genes from one plant species to another, or from other organisms such as bacteria. In the last year the availability of the complete sequence of the three genomes (nuclear, chloroplast and mitochondrial ) found in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, and the first draft of the nuclear genome sequence from rice, has opened up even further possibilities for the manipulation of plant genomes. This knowledge is of use not only in marker-assisted plant breeding programmes but also has the potential, combined with transgenic techniques, of modifying plant metabolism for a wide variety of purpos
(1) the improvement of the efficiency of specific metabolic pathways so as to improve the 'efficiency' of the plant as a whole in terms of for example yield, nutritional quality, agronomic characteristics, and ability to take up and utilise soil nutrients.
(2) increased resistance to abiotic stresses such as to heat, cold, drought or saline conditions and biotic stress caused by pests and pathogens.
(3) the engineering of metabolism to change the nature of the harvested product so it can be used as an industrial feedstock or to provide a product of therapeutic value.
Input Traits: It is no surprise that due to our reliance on a few crop species which are essentially grown as monocultures (with limited genetic variation) throughout the world that the first generation of transgenic crops developed (mainly corn,soybean and cotton) confer resistance to herbicides and insect pests. Crops with resistance to herbicides such as Glyphosate (Roundup, the worlds most widely used herbicide) and insects (based on expression of a modified Bacillus thuringiensis protein) have been grown since the mid 90’s and now account for 16% (ca. 44 million hectares over 100 million acres, an area approximately the size of the UK) of all crops grown globally (James 2001). The majority of these crops are grown in North America and in the USA current estimates for 2001 suggest that 26% of the corn, 68% of the soybean and 69% of the cotton planted will be genetically modified. In Argentina c.80 % of the Soybean and ca.50 % of the corn is biotech. The planting of transgenic crops in the rest of the w
Some 66% of all processed food grown in the USA contains products from GM plants and there has been no substantiated evidence of any associated consequences for human health since its introduction over 5 years ago. Despite the widespread use of crop protection chemicals some 40% of all crops are lost to pests, disease and decay before it reaches the consumer - if this loss could be reduced by the introduction of resistant transgenic plants it would save vast amounts diesel which drives the tractors, agrochemicals and water. Although evaluations of existing field data is still controversial there is an expectation that widespread adoption of genetically improved crops will eventually result in a reduction in the use of pesticides and herbicides, increased safety for the farmer, reduced tilling of the land( and therefore less danger of erosion) with consequent perceived benefits for consumers and the environment. The potential environmental risks and benefits of growing genetically crops are still being eva
While there is no doubt that application of the ‘omic’ sciences (genomics, proteomics and metabolomics) will allow the development of more effective genetic engineering strategies for crop protection it is unrealistic to think they will replace the use of agrochemicals. An increased understanding of plant metabolism should be considered as an opportunity to develop a more scientifically based and synergistic approach to crop protection which will allow the optimization of the use crop protection chemicals and an evaluation of transgenic alternatives (see also Hamer these proceedings for further discussion). The potential of developing transgenic solutions to other problems of agricultural production which have been loosely called ‘input traits’(see De Greef these proceedings) including heat and drought tolerance, salt tolerance, water and nutrient uptake efficiency and bioremediation are expected to be more complex and involve the introduction of multiple genes into a single genotype. However this might not
Output Traits: The next generation of transgenic plants
The current applications of plant biotechnology have in the main been driven by the agrochemical industry for farmers in the developed world who provide the majority of the grain staples for the developing world. In the future it is expected that the main thrust of this emerging technology will be used to increase the efficiency and quality of food production in both the developed and developing world thereby going someway towards reducing the inequalities and dependence which exist. What I would like to do in the remainder of this article is to highlight some potential applications of transgenic biology which address general societal objectives associated with finding alternatives to a fossil based fuel economy and creating plants which address problems of health and nutrition.
Plants as Biorefineries: The objectives of conventional plant breeding programmes is primarily the production of crops with quantitative and qualitative differences in plant oils, carbohydrates and proteins for food use. However the isolation of genes which encode enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of storage oils and fatty acids, starch and fructans, and proteins will allow the exploitation of plants as biorefineries to produce biopolymers for non-food use and as feedstocks for the chemical industry. Significant proof of concept studies have illustrated the potential for utilising transgenic plants for this purpose (Somerville & Bonetta 2001, and also selected articles in Volume 10 of Current Opinion in Biotechnology 1999). This approach will also have the added benefit of producing biorecyclable products in a sustainable and environmentally benign manner and contribute towards finding alternatives to materials (often non-recylcable) currently produced by chemical synthesis. There are however signif
However, a realization of this potential could go some considerable way towards reducing our dependence on declining global reserves of non-renewable fossil derived oil, gas and coal. It would also have the added advantage of depending upon a renewable energy source-the sun-and involve the use of more environmentally benign materials which result in the production of less toxic waste.
Transgenic Plants In Health and Nutrition: Conventional plant breeding programmes are constrained by the traits that are already contained within the species and its close relatives and hence the potential to modify metabolism by introduction of new genes and thus change the nature of the harvested product is limited. The ability to modify metabolism by the introduction of one or several genes derived from plants (or other organisms) which will not cross with the major crop species opens up the way to producing a range metabolites which are therapeutically and nutritionally important and hence will be perceived as having direct consumer benefits.
The targets for genetic manipulation include the production of major crop plants for both human and animal consumption with nutritionally enhanced macronutrients with improved fatty acid and essential amino acid composition, and improved micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to address nutrient deficiencies. An additional target is the enrichment of naturally occurring phytochemicals, collectively referred to as nutraceuticals which are reported to have health-enhancing properties. These include anti-oxidants such as isoflavones and anthocyanins, anti-cancer compounds e.g. glucosinolates and phytosterols which may contribute to the lowering of cholesterol in the blood (DellaPenna 1999).Since allergens in food are almost always proteins, it is potentially possible to eliminate or alter food allergens by genetic manipulation e.g. to produce gluten free wheat for coeliacs and rice and peanuts with reduced allergens.
Micronutrients: The vast majority of inhabitants of the industrialized nations have more than adequate access to both macro- and micro- nutrients to ensure a balanced diet, however there is a growing perception, often encouraged by the media and health food manufacturers that our diets need supplementation with a range of essential vitamins and other micronutrients. What is certainly true in the developing world is that the basic nutritional needs of much of the population is still unmet because their staple foodstuffs such as wheat, rice and corn contain a poor balance of some macronutrients and many essential micronutrients particularily Vitamin A, iron and iodine. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are a major problem in the developing world with perhaps the most serious being acute Vitamin A deficiency which annually affects c.150 million children worldwide with 10 million developing xerophthalmia, 500,000 becoming permanently blinded and 1-2 million dying unnecessarily. Vitamin A deficiency is also a m
While recognizing that dietary supplementation is a cheap and effective option to ensure the provision of an adequate and balanced supply of these essential nutrients it is not always achievable. This was one of the reasons why Ingo Potrykus, Peter Beyer and their colleagues initiated a programme to genetically engineer the provitamin A pathway into the rice endosperm in the early 1990s and led to one of the more exciting and controversial recent developments in transgenic biology, the creation of so called ‘Golden Rice’ (Potrykus 2001). They introduced genes encoding three carotenoid biosynthetic enzymes, two from daffodil and one from the common soil bacterium Erwinia carotovorum into rice and recovered plants which produced yellow-coloured rice grains containing provitamin A and other terpenoids of nutritional importance. While the amount of provitamin A produced initially (1.6mg b-carotene per gram of rice ) is not sufficient to meet the recommended daily requirements it is expected that with further
This pioneering work demonstrates the potential for modifying and engineering complex metabolic pathways in plants and so enriching foodstuffs in essential micronutrients. Work is already underway to increase the content and availability of other micronutrients including Vitamin E, iron, zinc and calcium (Hirschberg 1999).
An example of other compounds with potential health benefits which can be enriched in plants by genetic manipulation are the flavanols which exhibit antioxidant and vasodilatory activity and may help to protect against cardiovascular disease. Recently Muir et al., (2001) have over-expressed a Petunia gene encoding chalcone isomerase, an enzyme involved in flavonol biosynthesis, in tomato resulting in a significant increase (78 fold) in flavonols in the fruit peel, mainly due to the accumulation of quercetin glycosides.
The Production Of Biopharmaceuticals In Transgenic Plants: Transgenic plants also provide potential low-cost alternative to fermentation-based production systems for the expression of foreign proteins with pharmaceutical and industrial value (Giddings et al., 2000). These include vaccines, antibodies, biopharmaceuticals such as anticoagulants (oilseed rape transgenic for hirudin is already grown commercially in Canada) and other blood products and industrial enzymes (e.g. phytase). The production of recombinant pharmaceuticals in plants has other potential advantages given the general distrust of many products derived from humans and animals as a consequence of BSE, foot and mouth disease and also contamination of blood for transfusion with the HIV and hepatitis viruses. Examples of the former include development of the technology for the production and oral delivery of inexpensive vaccines against E.coli enterotoxin B and Norwalk virus which cause diarrhea, and hepatitis B surface antigen, which have be
The manufacture of plant derived oral vaccines have obvious advantages in terms of low production costs, elimination of the cold chain and need to administer sterile injections. However there are still formidable hurdles before oral vaccines become a reality. These include optimization of expression of the vaccines in an edible plant product (e.g. potatoes, tomatoes and bananas) which can be processed using existing technology e.g. freeze-drying, dehydration or pulping. The vaccine formulations must exhibit antigen stability and issues such as dosage, timing of administration and registration and regulation as a medicinal product must all be addressed.
It is both unrealistic and naive to expect GM technology to solve the problem of world hunger and poverty which are complex and do not just depend upon the amount of food produced. World food security is at the moment primarily a problem of grossly inadequate means of production of the worlds poorest peasant farmers who cannot sustain themselves coupled to insufficient purchasing power of other poor rural and urban consumers often forced to migrate from the rural environment. Improvement in crop yields in the poorer countries for consumption, and provided trade barriers are removed, for export, could make a significant contribution to alleviating poverty and encouraging economic development. These advances can only be achieved by societal and political will, coupled to an increase in publicly funded research and an equitable cooperation between public and private sectors. Technology transfer to developing countries and an increased concentration of transgenic research on non-traded ‘orphan crops’ which are
It is my belief that the application of plant biotechnology together with conventional plant breeding and improved agricultural practices may provide solutions to some of the challenges I have outlined. As with many new technologies, people are keen to embrace many of the benefits but are concerned about the potential risks. The manner of introduction of these new technologies was over enthusiastic and lacked awareness of cultural sensitivities which has led to widespread loss of community confidence, that has in turn been exploited by non-representative groups and activists for their own political ends (for a recent response to the claims made by the non-representative groups who oppose GM crops (see Trewavas & Leaver 2001)
However, if we are to satisfy the real and legitimate environmental concerns associated with modern high input agriculture and the threat of global warming, and still feed the increasing world population in a sustainable manner, we must assume responsibility for fully evaluating this technology to contribute to the security of future generations.
"Doing Nothing Is Not An Option"
References: In full text of this doc at http://www.bcpc.org/publications/reports.htm
Public Communication On The Food Chain, The Foundation Of Global Progress
Christine M Bruhn, Center for Consumer Research, University of California, Davis, USA
Excepts Below. Full text at http://www.bcpc.org/publications/reports.htm
In 1999 the Bawden Lecture was presented by Professor Christine Bruhn from the Centre for Consumer Research, University of California, Davis, USA.
In her lecture Professor Bruhn proposed that communication is an integral step in innovation. New plant production and processing techniques serve no value if they are misunderstood or rejected at any stage of the food cycle. Effective communication among scientists, consumers, farmers, and retailers helps clarify values and leads to greater understanding of each groupís perspectives, concerns, and actions. This information exchange can lead to increased acceptance of innovation and can help scientists identify approaches to meet environmental and safety goals.
Communication is an integral step in innovation. New plant production and processing techniques serve no value if they are misunderstood or rejected at any stage of the food cycle. Effective communication among scientists, consumers, farmers, and retailers helps clarify values and leads to greater understanding of each group’s perspectives, concerns, and actions. This information exchange can lead to increased acceptance of innovation and can help scientists identify approaches to meet environmental and safety goals.
Scientific advances have provided society with the tools to alleviate some pressing problems in human health and environmental stewardship. Plant diseases and pests which reduce production capacity in developing countries can be overcome. The health enhancing components of basic foods can be increased. Food has been developed which require less energy in processing. Plants can be grown with less pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer. The future should look bright, but it doesn’t. Fearful images are presented in the press. These changes are described as arrogant, immoral and dangerous to people and the environment. As a result, choice in the marketplace is curtailed or denied. As we prepare for the next millennium, one could say, “It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness…” Dickens (1827)
We may disagree as to what is foolish and what is wise. I will share my perspective. I will highlight problem areas, then suggest an approach to enable the food production sector to reach the goals people value. The scientific community must increase communication with non scientists, specially the consumer, retailer and the farmer so mutually held goals and values are realized. Successfully addressing local and global issues is dependent upon effective public communication.
Facts And Fancies: While everyone favors production of safe food, people differ as to how safe is safe enough. Consumers, growers, and scientists may evaluate the safety and environmental appropriateness of agricultural production techniques differently. Virtually everyone favors protecting the environment, but people differ as to how much they are willing to pay and how much protection is sufficient.
Organic production: solution or allusion?
In their quest for food safety and environmental stewardship, some have chosen organic production. Specifications for organic production differ by countries. Guidelines in the United States describe organic as a method of production based upon the use of natural inputs (Anony., 1996a). This production method is not accurately perceived by many US consumers. Although organic farmers clearly describe their practices, promoters often speak of organic production as pesticides and animal drugs free.
Up to 80% of US consumers believe organic is a pesticide-free production method (Anony., 1996b; Jolly, et al., 1989; Zind, 1990). Some believe organic products are nutritionally superior, however there is no documentation of significant difference. Consumers in the UK and the US select organic products for health reasons (Sloan, 1998) (Wright, 1997), however organic pesticides, like their synthetic counterparts, are toxic, use of manure entails microbiological risks, and organically grown food may have higher levels of fungi or plant generated toxins. Organic pesticides are also not necessarily more environmentally friendly. They may be broad spectrum whereas synthetics are targeted and they may require more frequent applications, thereby increasing worker exposure and soil compaction.
Will people feel deceived when they find out that organic is not what they think it is? Will the credibility of the farming community be lowered?..........
Change and innovations frequently generate concern. The following reflects how some may feel toward rDNA technology: “We have recently advanced our knowledge of genetics to the point where we can manipulate life in a way never intended by nature. We must proceed with utmost caution in the application of this new found knowledge.” Luther Burbank did not make this statement in the 1990’s, but in 1906. He was referring to GMO’s but not those modified by rDNA technology. Burbank proceeded to develop over 800 new horticultural varieties, including numerous varieties of peaches and plums which have become common place today. While caution is appropriate, destruction of crops grown to provide environmental and safety information damages everyone. A lengthy moratorium perpetuates the status quo and delays beneficial changes. ..........
The difference etween European and US consumer attitudes may be attributed to perceptions of risk, level of knowledge or trust in regulatory authorities. Gaskell et al (1999) indicate that those who support rDNA technology believe the technology is useful and morally acceptable with little risk. In regards to applications to food, this group constitutes 22% in Europe and 37% in the US. Risk tolerant supports make up 21% in Europe and 24% in the US. Opponents, estimated at 30% in Europe and 13% in the US, believe the technology is risky, offers no benefit and is morally unacceptable. Those who believe the technology is useful, not very risky but morally unacceptable constitute 2% in Europe and 1% in the US. ..........
These findings suggest lack of trust and misinformation are the primary impediments to innovations that could help improve the safety and quality of the food supply and further environmentally sensitive production. To reach their potential, innovations must be accepted by each segment of the food production chain. An open dialogue between the scientist and the public can help correct misinformation, generate trust and lay a basis for informed decision making.
Communication Strategy: Communication channels between the scientist, farmer, retailer and consumer must be opened. The goal of this communication is to permit choice consistent with personal values and based upon science-based information rather than distortion.
Communication is a two way process. It does not entail one group telling the other what to think or how to act. The first step is to listen to the farmer, retailer, or consumer. Focus groups, interviews or surveys can be used to understand concerns, assess knowledge and check information sources. Demographic information such as age, education and income for consumers, geographic region, crops grown for the farmer, retailer size and market may help segment audiences to identify concerns and focus communication. This research can provide insight as to what information people need and what messages most effectively respond to questions. This type of exchange is informative for the researcher as well. Scientists may be inspired to pursue new research questions.
Perception of risk: Lay persons perceive risk differently from experts. While scientists focus on probability and severity of harm, lay persons responds to a host of factors. Peter Sandman characterized this response as the "outrage" factors associated with a situation (Sandman, 1987).
Risk Perception = Probability of Hazard + Outrage Factors
Outrage incorporates distribution of benefits and risks, degree of personal control, voluntary or involuntary risk exposure, and severity and target of ill effects.
* Although skiing is recognized as hazardous, it is acceptable because people chose to engage in the sport (voluntary) and it brings pleasure to the participant (benefit).
* Pesticide residues generate outrage because farmers are perceived to receive the benefit while consumers take the risk; the hazards are unknown with a potential for cancer (dreaded consequence); and children are thought to be at greatest risk.
Message content and delivery: A complete message includes information about the pros and cons of an action, its alternatives, and its uncertainties (Committee on Risk Perception and Communication, 1989). People respond differently to use of pesticides, food irradiation and rDNA technology when they learn of potential benefits, can compare risks and hear how trusted sources evaluate risks and benefits (Anony., 1996c; Bruhn, et al., 1998; Hoban, 1997; Hoban & Kendall, 1993).
Numerous surveys note that television and newspapers were the major information sources for the public, followed by radio, magazines, and other people (Anony., 1997; Bruhn, et al., 1992; Chipman, et al., 1995; Hoban & Kendall, 1993; International Food Information Council (IFIC), 1989). Few consumers, even among those with serious concerns, want to attend a public meeting. Therefore, despite the one-way nature of television and print media and other limitations, the media should be used to communicate with the public. Messages can be made interesting and relevant by emphasizing the human rather than the statistical aspects of a story.
Trusted information sources are described as knowledgeable, concerned with public welfare, truthful, and with a "good track record." Less credible sources are characterized by exaggeration, distortion, and vested interest (Frewer, et al., 1996). Consumers in the United States considered health authorities, such as the American Medical Association or the American Dietetic Association, as the most credible, followed by university scientists and regulatory groups like FDA (Hoban, 1994). Consumers in the UK ascribe high credibility to quality television programs (Frewer, et al., 1996). ....
Future Action: Stewardship and wise use of resources are values shared by the agricultural and non-agriculture members of society. In the long run, agriculture production is dependent on ecological conservation. Farming practices that ignore this interdependence suffer from reduced production and increased cost. Failure to demonstrate a commitment to environmental values could lead to public antagonism and regulatory constraints.
Scientists and scientific organizations must reach beyond the confines of their profession to reach users of innovations and the public. To communicate about food production and new technologies, identify the full range of concern. Empower the public by describing how risk is determined, how it can be monitored and how people can controlled or reduce risk. Identify shared values and help the target audience, be it farmer, retailer, or consumer identify an approach to meet those values. Test the clarity and understanding of the message with the target audience. Utilize the mass media with supplemental information to sustain communication, enabling the public to make decisions based upon personal values and goals and a greater understanding of potential risks and benefits.
The operational word is transparency, sharing what is known, not in scientific detail, but the potential positive and negative effects on human health and the environments. There are no simple answers. The use of natural materials, a principle of organic farming, has positive and negative ramifications. Recombinant DNA technology is a tool which, like the tools in the garage, can be used in a multitude of ways. By itself, it is neither good nor bad. It is how it is used that is relevant.
Without communicating potential benefits and addressing concerns, innovations may not be realized. If the avenues of communication are not used by the scientists, they can become dominated by special interest groups who may or may not share science-based information. If useful innovations are not adopted , society suffers.