Editorial: Time to speak up
The discovery of (and subsequent announcement about) a few unregulated genetically modified (GM) wheat plants on an isolated access road in southern Alberta raised dozens of questions from the ag community and the general public – and the confusion still remains.
The plants were discovered in 2017 but not announced to the public until June 2018. This is the first time unregulated GM wheat has been found in Canada (although other cases have happened over the past decade in Washington, Oregon and Montana), and the discovery prompted South Korea and Japan to temporarily suspend shipments of Canadian wheat (the countries resumed Canadian wheat purchases on June 26 and July 20, respectively). The wheat – discovered in the summer in 2017 when it resisted herbicide spraying treatment – was determined to contain a genetically modified trait developed by Monsanto, but was not linked to company field trials conducted several years ago in a different part of Alberta.
Though the story is still newsworthy, the hype around it seems to have died down a bit among the mainstream media. But against my better judgment, I decided to read comments on a national newspaper’s online article about the discovery, and the amount of comments from people who still have misunderstandings about genetically modified organisms is staggering. Terminology is misused and people are quick to make assumptions and place blame. And it’s not just happening on the Internet. At my local grocery store, I recently overhead a shopper comment about how she likes to purchase a certain brand of artisanal bread because it’s clearly labelled to be free of GMOs. The package doesn’t lie, but the marketing is clever – and it clearly works.
It’s disheartening to read and hear comments like this, but what’s more disappointing is to see the lack of commentary from the other side. It proves the disconnect between producer and consumer still exists, and I fear it’s going to get worse. I didn’t see a single comment on that article that clarified any of the misconceptions about genetically modified crops grown in Canada, and without commentary from the experts (read: you), misinformation spreads like wildfire.
My eldest son is not quite four years old, and can identify the crops grown around our house. He’s quick to point out a sprayer in the neighbouring field and will just as hastily correct you if you mistakenly call it a tractor. He’ll also be a part of the generation that won’t grow up with a landline phone in the house, but likely with more than one computer and tablet instead. He will have access to more information at his fingertips than he will ever need. I know I’ll have the ongoing task of helping him (and my other children) learn the difference between the “good stuff” and the “bad stuff” he encounters every day, but I hope he uses these tools wisely and continues to identify when something is wrong, and speak up when he has questions.
At least once a year, something prompts me to step up on the soapbox and use this short column to preach about the importance of educating the public about what you do. Maybe it’s the conviction with which my son talks about the differences between a combine and a tractor, or maybe it was that grocery store conversation – but here’s my annual reminder to you. The agriculture industry needs to work harder than ever to bridge the gap between producer and consumer, and everyone has a role to play. Channel your inner preschooler and use your voice to defend what you’re passionate about.