I recently read about a survey that was done by the Huffington Post (HuffPost/YouGov poll) that asked a simple question, How much faith do Americans have in scientists and science journalists? In Agriculture we are quick to point to scientific studies that justify many of our modern production practices and technologies. We are quick to claim that GMO’s are safe because they are scientifically proven. We make the same claims about antibiotics, hormones, herbicides and pesticides, and every other modern technology. So how much faith do Americans have in Science? According to the survey only 36% report having “a lot” of trust that the information they get from Scientists is accurate and reliable. Another 51% said they trust that information only a little, and 6% don’t trust it at all. The survey also found that “78 percent of Americans think that information reported in scientific studies is often (34 percent) or sometimes (44 percent) influenced by political ideology”. While “82 percent said that they think that scientific findings are often (43 percent) or sometimes (39 percent) influenced by the companies or organizations sponsoring them.”
I recently posted to facebook a link to an article talking about the scientific proof that GMO’s are safe. The article was great, after reading it how could anyone argue the safety of GMO crops I thought. A friend commented on my post and simply said, “sounds just like Global Warming”. This made me think. I for one am not a believer in Global Warming or Climate Change or what ever they try to call it next. Scientists have been claiming for years that Earth’s temperature is rising and foretelling dire consequences that are bound to occur as a result of our failure to change the way we live. Al Gore declared several years ago that the debate over Global Warming is over, who can forget his pictures of the polar bears floating away on what was left of the poplar ice caps. But I still don’t believe!
So I believe that we are missing the boat if we continue to use science as a justification for our modern production practices. It is easy to cite a scientific study that justifies the way we produce our product, but our consumers aren’t buying it. A little over a year ago I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Germany on an Agricultural tour. German farmers are unable to use many of the new production tools that we use in America, they are simply not allowed. No GMO’s, no Growth hormones, not because science has found anything wrong with them, European Scientific studies have found that they are safe, but they don’t trust their own science. The German people (Europeans in general) don’t trust science and “Big Agriculture” to look out for their safety and their best interest in making decisions regarding food production. They seem to love farmers, farmers are their neighbors and friends. Farmers Good, Science and Ag technology bad. As a result Agricultural technologies are very restricted.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that science or scientists are in anyway bad or that Agriculture should not use science to improve our industry. We in Agriculture need be continually working with the science community to improve our industry. All new Ag technologies need to be proven by science to be both safe and effective. But that alone is not enough to convince the public.
So if American agriculture is going to continue to use the technologies and tools we use today along with the new ones being developed all the time, we will have to find ways to convince the public that they are safe and that we really do have their best interest in mind. We live in a time when people are more concerned about how their food is being produced than ever before. Most people don’t fully understand how we grow their food or why we do it the way we do, but they are extremely concerned that it be done in a manner that they deem to be safe and responsible.
So how do we do that? How do we convince our consumers that our production systems are safe and responsible? I don’t know for sure. I do know that there is not any one silver bullet that will convince everyone, I think that is what we have relied on science to be for too long. I do have to think there are a few things we can all do to help assure the public that what we do is safe and responsible.
We have to speak out and tell our story, tell it in ways that people can relate too. Share pictures of our farms and animals, host tours, connect with people. I am convinced that we need to put a human face on agricultural production. If the public is not willing to trust Science, then we need them to trust us.