GMO Storytelling: Anecdotes Are Not Answers

January 23, 2015

I was a college student when I wrote my first article on genetically modified seed as a freelance journalist for a regional agricultural publication. Glyphosate-resistant soybeans were just coming on the market and held great promise for producers.

That was nearly 20 years ago, and I have written countless more stories on biotechnology and GMOs and have embraced the technology in our own farming operation. We’ve made thousands fewer passes with the tractor across our fields, sprayed much less chemical and have improved our environment and farm efficiencies because of biotechnology. We are innovating because of biotechnology.

I am an ag communicator, a farmer and a mom who cares about my family’s well-being and the safety of the products I buy for them. And I am comfortable with the safety of GMOs. But I also recognize that I’ve had the benefit of investing in the understanding of biotech and have sought out the volumes of scientific research and data about the safety of GMOs for many years.

The thing about data is, it’s not very entertaining. In fact, it can be downright boring or confusing. You have to want to read it plus be able to tell if it is from a credible source. People have go-to sources for issues they don’t have time to research, and it’s usually not a scientific journal.

Consumers are not thinking about data when they go to the grocery store, but they might recall a story or an anecdote they heard or read about GMOs that skews their perception. Activists like to use anecdotes in the absence of actual answers.

I came across an article recently that stated, “the plural of anecdote is not data.” This article is very resourceful in understanding what comprises credible scientific data.

The controversy over GMOs has been present from the beginning, and I understand when consumers have questions about the food they eat. We all should be diligent in being knowledgeable about the safety of our food. But scare tactics and sensational storytelling not only create unnecessary consumer anxiety about food, but ultimately stand in the way of agriculture becoming even more sustainable through the innovations of biotechnology.

Our job as ag communicators and marketers is to make sure any information we are generating is accurate, absent of sensationalism, engaging and consumer facing. After all, facts don’t persuade people — people persuade people.