By Julia Debes
For audio file and more information, click here.
Frankenfood. Toxic wheat. Genetically modified. Gluten. Farmers and scientists recognize these topics as frustrating myth and misperception, but not all consumers may have enough knowledge to do the same.
That is the conclusion of a new report by the Pew Research Center, who interviewed both scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the general public with the same set of questions to see how views differed between the two groups on a wide range of scientific topics, including genetically modified foods.
The results show a big gap between perceptions. The majority of scientists (88 percent) responded that it was safe to eat genetically modified foods, while the majority of the general public (57 percent) said genetically modified foods were unsafe to consume. The 51 percentage point divide was the largest opinion difference in the survey. Furthermore, 57 percent of Americans said they believed scientists do not have a clear understanding about the health effects of genetically modified crops.
In order to build a bridge between scientific knowledge and consumer education, members of the Council for Biotechnology Information – including BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto Company and Syngenta – collaborated together to build a new website designed specifically to answer any and every question on genetic modification – GMO Answers.
Kate Hall is the manager for partnerships and programs for the Food and Agriculture Section of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). She explained at the January Kansas Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference that the website was designed to focus on the conversations and concerns consumers have on safety, affordability and nutritional value.
“Food is personal,” she said, detailing GMO Answers is an open forum. “This a public question and answer where anyone can come and ask any question they have on food and agriculture.”
GMO Answers draws on more than 100 volunteer experts to answer submitted questions, including “conventional and organic farmers, agribusiness experts, scientists, academics, medical doctors and nutritionists.”
Even though there is no genetically modified wheat currently in the commercial grain supply, that does not mean consumers have not submitted questions about it. Questions have addressed the result of breeding semi-dwarf wheat on gluten content (none) and the effect of using glyphosate on wheat at harvest (which less than 5 percent of American famers do). Industry experts Dr. Brett Carver, Oklahoma State University wheat breeder, Dr. Kevin Folta, professor and chair of the University of Florida horticultural services department, and Dr. Andrew Kniss, associate professor of weed ecology and management at the University of Wyoming, provided detailed responses.
Wheat researchers at Kansas State University are conducting valuable research into genetic modification that provides increased resistance to destructive wheat viruses, additional heat tolerance and even could someday create a celiac safe wheat. Consumer acceptance will be needed, however, to bring those benefits to the farm and to the dinner table. The Pew research illustrated that communication efforts like GMO Answers are much needed to make that happen.
“Join the conversation and ask your questions about GMOs and biotechnology,” the GMO Answers website stated. “Be skeptical. Be open. We want to hear from you.”
Source: Kansas Wheat