Helping Anti-GMO Consumers Know the Truth

Van Eennennaam: It’s Tough to Change Emotion

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

California Ag Today recently spoke with Alison Van Eenennaam, a UCANR Cooperative Extension Specialist focused on  Animal Genomics at UC Davis. She discussed the argument against GMOs and the difficulty that some science communicators have with reaching anti-GMO consumers whose arguments are more emotion-based than fact-based.

“When every major scientific society in the world says something, then I don’t believe it’s a giant conspiracy theory,” Van Eenennaam said. “I believe that’s what the data show, and I get a little bit frustrated when people cherry pick an outlining study and just selectively ignore the consensus opinion of every single scientist in the world. That doesn’t make sense.”

“It becomes more like a denialist instead of a skeptic at that stage. Then discussion around the safety of GMOs is just out of kilt with the actual scientific data. It’s frustrating trying to correct that with science because it’s very hard to counter an emotional argument. So we need to peel back the story in a narrative form,” she said.

Van Eenennaam highlighted a movie called Food Evolution, narrated by American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, which presents a factual representation of GMOs.

“I think that’s what’s been encouraging to me, just with general audience populations watching it, is they’ll come up afterwards and say, ‘You know what? This film made me think.’ ” Van Eenennaam said. “As a science communicator, I cannot ask for more than that. That’s exactly what I want people to do. I want them to dig down into the data and recognizing where they are getting the information and what it’s saying. I think that is a positive outcome.”

And certainly the movie has changed the mind of some people.

“And that is great, but we are wanting people to reevaluate on why they are changing their minds and are they willing to change their minds based on the evidence?  That is one of the focal points of the movie,” Van Eenennaam explained.

The Food Evolution movie can be seen free if you subscribe to Hulu. It can also be seen in different areas on the web. Simply search for it online.



The Fight Against Food Misinformation

Kavin Senapathy: Correcting Food Misinformation and Alarmism

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Kavin Senapathy, science communicator/advocate and contributor to Forbes Magazine, among others, is tightly focused on her goal to debunk miscommunication about human health, as well as genomic, food, and genetic engineering. Senapathy stated, “There is this culture of alarmism,” about food safety and food misinformation versus the science-based reality of our food safety management. “The alarmism and fear is so amplified, people don’t realize how very safe we are right now.”

Senapathy gets her facts from the source, “I speak to as many scientists as possible, and I know how to read and dissect a scientific paper. I know there is a very important difference between cherry picking from one study to support a bias, and looking at the weight of scientific evidence,” she said.FDA, FSMA Food Safety

“I also talk to farmers and I’m learning more about the hands-on practices,” Senapathy said. “California farmers produce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables,” she said, “and we all should be eating more of them.”

“I think a lot of the fear and misinformation take away from the message of eating the right things,” continued Senapathy. “Thinking, ‘I should avoid MSG, I should avoid GMOs or xyz additive,’ really detracts from the most important message—that we should be eating less unhealthy things like sodium and saturated fat, and not too many calories,” noted Senapathy. “We should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains.”

And though she lives in Wisconsin, Senapathy says she is amazed by how many fruits and vegetables are available, even in the wintertime. “I can go to the grocery store in February and come home with grapes, strawberries, bananas, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables,” Senapathy said. “You know, we should marvel at the bounty of this more often.”

She’s quick to thank farmers for feeding her family and those of everyone, everywhere. “We forgetwith all the fear and misinformation in social mediathat our food supply is more abundant and safer than it has ever been,” she noted. “We should all be appreciative and thankful for that.”