Why do we fear GMOs when science says they’re safe?

quarta-feira, janeiro 10, 2018

  Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been met with fear and massive public opposition in the past few years. Many people believe GMOs are the cause of diseases – such as cancer – and that they were solely created to benefit large corporations that are responsible for putting food on the shelves of our local supermarkets. 
Just as more Americans grow wary of GMOs, the scientific community insists that GMOs are perfectly safe for human consumption. Organizations dedicated to protecting and improving public health such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health OrganizatiImagem relacionadaon and the American Medical Association have all claimed that GMOs are safe for consumption.
  So, if scientists believe GMOs are safe, why have we created such a strong, harmful rhetoric around the use of GMOs in food production? Why have we developed a persisted fear of GMOs, but remain unafraid of food mismanagement that has been proven to cause immediate, real harm such as E. coli in our Chipotle bowls?
  I recently pursued a study, with a passionate group of communication researchers from George Mason University, to answer this question. We sought out to understand why people fear GMOs and how these fears translate into behaviors.
  The domestic role of mothers has dramatically shifted in recent years, however mothers still dominate the retail market place and are typically responsible for grocery shopping in their respective households. For this reason, our research team conducted qualitative interviews of mothers that reside in the DC metro area in combination with a quantitative survey designed to discover a connection between GMO safety perception and purchasing behavior.
  In the study, we identified a key theme in most of our participants. Most people sought out “GMO-free” labels and placed high importance on avoiding GMOs, but those same people weren’t exactly sure if GMOs were safe nor could they confidently describe what a GMO was. This tells us that consumer behavior to avoid GMOs hasn’t necessarily persisted because of Monsanto outrage or the “all-natural and organic” food trend emerging in America, rather an innate fear of what we don’t understand.
  The intuitive mind isn’t prepared to make decisions about words like “nanotechnology” or “transgenic.” Most of the participants never spent much time considering what a GMO is, so they are likely to be averse to a label about them that is beyond their understanding.
  The most common mistake I see in communicating complex ideas such as GMOs is the neglect of the layperson. The research our team conducted demonstrates that people do not necessarily fear GMOs, but they haven’t been given a compelling reason not to fear them. The basic foundation of communication is a sender and a receiver, so why have we been ignoring the receiver in our effort to eliminate fear?
  The gap between scientific and public opinion widens when we don’t make an effort to understand what caused it. isThis  what makes our study so vital in the concept of science communication – you have to understand how a concept or belief evolved before you can properly debunk it.
  This isn’t the first or the last time that there will be a massive gap between scientific and public opinion. New technology and modern medicine allows for so many things, and there will inevitably be things that come down the pipeline where we should question their implications.
  As an academic and professional scientific communicator, I think there is an opportunity to mend this gap and inspire science communication that works with the public, rather than against them.
Published by Kristen Dalton

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