Applying the 7 strategies to communicate GMOs at UW-Madison

Last week, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison had the opportunity advocate for agriculture through an event called Ag Day on Campus. Ag Day on Campus is an annual event hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Collegiate Farm Bureau chapter. Students in the Collegiate Farm Bureau set-up on campus and spent the day educating their fellow students about agriculture and where their food comes from. Ag Day on Campus is also a way for students studying agriculture to talk to a variety of students outside of their regular peers.

Photo courtesy of the UW-Madison Collegiate Farm Bureau chapter

Students and consumers had questions about everything from cows to crops. Here are a few questions specifically about GMOs and how you can apply the “7 strategies to communicate GMOs to millennials” to answer them.

What are GMOs?

This was the most common question students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison had during Ag Day on Campus. This question offers the perfect opportunity to set the stage for a true conversation. If they are against genetically modified organisms, start by asking them what they have heard about GMOs and where they found that information. Starting the conversation by telling them they are wrong will be counterproductive. Instead, listen to their concerns and address them directly. Cite reputable sources and studies about GMOs.

If they’re interested, explain the process of genetic modification and the important regulation required for GMO crops. While fielding these questions at Ag Day on Campus, I found that most students were open to hearing their concerns addressed.

Mariah Martin, a junior at UW-Madison and cranberry expert, and Jordan Gaal answer millennials’ questions. (Photo courtesy of the UW-Madison Collegiate Farm Bureau chapter)

Humans haven’t evolved consuming these GMOs, how can we be so sure that it’s safe?

This question is a direct consumer concern. It’s a common myth that there aren’t any long-term GMO health and safety studies. Use the first strategy from the “7 strategies to communicate GMOs to millennials” article and emphasis the importance of the review by the National Academies of Sciences and long-term studies in reputable journals such as the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, Food and Chemical Toxicology and this multigenerational assessment literature review.

Continue the conversation by agreeing that it is good to be critical of new technologies, but there is clear scientific consensus around GMOs. This question also presents an opportunity to apply Vance Crowe’s communication strategy by revealing a knowledge gap. Tell the consumer that humans have been selectively breeding crops for thousands of years and now it is accomplished with more efficient and effective technologies.

Are GMOs safe for the environment?

When having a conversation about GMOs and the environment, apply strategy number seven from the “7 strategies to communicate GMOs to millennials”. It’s important to keep learning about new ways researchers are using GMOs to improve the environment, save water and create a healthier ecosystem. Knowing some facts or initiatives surrounding this topic will allow you to have a productive conversation about a controversial area of agriculture technology and research.


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