How should the Consumer be educated on Agricultural Bioengineering?


By Melody Meyer
 
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public meeting in San Francisco, California last week to provide the public with an opportunity to share information, and suggestions to help inform the development of the Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative. OPN was there to monitor the public comments and suggestions.

The meeting opened with members of APHIS, FDA and EPA explaining that Congress mandated that they spend $3,000,000 to provide public education and outreach. Their ultimate goal is to inform consumers on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts of agricultural biotechnology and their benefits.

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They were looking for input from the public specifically on the following three questions: 

  1. What are the specific topics, questions, or other information that consumers would find most useful, and why?
  2. Currently, how and from where do consumers most often receive information on this subject?
  3. How can FDA (in coordination with USDA) best reach consumers with science-based educational information on this subject?

A number of substantive comments addressed these questions.

  • Consumers will find it most useful if regulators exercise good oversight of GMO Crops.
  • FDA must provide an objective perspective on the widespread planting of GMO crops.
  • When GMO’s were first introduced, consumers were not on the internet. Today the internet provides a wide array of information, both pro and con. FDA must take an objective view on the veracity of all that’s out there.
  • Reach out and engage with consumer and farm groups to have real discussions and dialogues. Listen to the concerns raised by consumers and farmers. Have farmers tell their stories so consumers can understand.
  • Only a small percentage of our society is involved in agriculture and many no longer have a connection to the farm. Farmers make a business decision when they choose GMO production. Educate the consumer about yields, quality, erosion and pesticides.
  • Today’s society is more influenced by belief systems than by scientific facts. The agencies must make long term changes on people’s belief systems.
  • Engage with teachers, universities and students hungry for biotech jobs.
  • Use social media to educate: Biotech corporations need to work hard to prove they are trustworthy.

Some speakers suggested radical integration with Organic

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Sighting that “We must reach past the established dichotomy of organic and biotech. We have to feed a growing population using organic and regenerative methods that sustain soil health.  This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for bio-technology in organic.  The current regulations do not allow biotech in organic and this should be changed.”

Consumer and public interest groups were well represented, advocating for:

  • Transparent labeling of all GE ingredients
  • Additional third party safety studies and risk assessments
  • Biotech to be regulated as an additive and not as a process
  • Use the Precautionary Principle: Should be the Department of “What could possibly go wrong?”
  • Complete prohibition of all gene editing techniques in Organic

 

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