Those in food and agriculture have two jobs. The first is to provide safe, affordable and nutritious food that’s sustainably produced. The second is to make sure people understand what’s being done and why. If consumers don’t understand, and more importantly, don’t trust those in food and agriculture to do the right thing, job number one cannot be accomplished.
Gene editing, a technique that makes precise, intentional changes in genetic material, is on the cusp of revolutionizing how food is produced, and how we address challenging diseases in both humans and animals. The food and agriculture industries must do their part to earn trust and gain acceptance of this new technology with a public that is more curious and skeptical than ever about how food is produced.
Speak Their Language
It starts by speaking consumers’ language.
The series features food blogger Lynne Feifer interviewing experts on CRISPR, a certain type of gene editing, and its potential benefits for animal health, our food and our health. The videos explore the promise of CRISPR to cure the devastating pig disease PRRS, the possibility of ridding foods like peanuts and wheat of allergens, and solving the biggest challenges of medicine “like curing HIV, muscular dystrophy and cancer,” according to video series expert Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou. He’s a food scientist at North Carolina State University and self-proclaimed CRISPR enthusiast who goes by the Twitter handle @CRISPRchef.
Relatability Key to Trust
The latest trust research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) shows us that relatability is key to earning trust.
Using an innovative research method called digital ethnography, CFI examined the online behaviors of 8,500 people to determine who influences food culture and what motivates them. We learned 40 percent of consumers crave credible, simple-to-understand information from people they trust.
Because they fear doing the wrong thing, they want guidance that feels right – meaning it’s ethically and morally the right thing to do. CFI’s trust model shows that connecting on ethics (or values) is three-to-five times more important to earning trust than simply sharing facts.
The research reveals three important elements required to connect with nearly half the population:
- A messenger they can trust. Someone who’s relatable and credentialed.
- A message that addresses their fears. Don’t talk about how technology increases productivity and profit; instead, tell us how it’s helping to improve food and human health, or end animal suffering – all of which speak to consumer values.
- Clear and simple solutions. In general, these consumers feel confused about many food issues and want information they can understand, particularly visual messages and how-to or what-to-do guidance.
The series hits all three. The credentialed experts are down-to-earth and relatable, and bring passion to the technology. They address the greater good of gene editing technology to society (not profit to companies and farmers) and explain the true simplicity of CRISPR in easy-to-understand language that’s complemented by engaging visuals – bringing the technology and its promise to life.
Get it Right the First Time
It’s critical that those using the technology get consumer engagement right to earn acceptance. Just ask the pig farmers who’ve lost thousands of animals to PRRS, the anxious parents who monitor every morsel eaten by their child who has a potentially deadly peanut allergy, and the millions who suffer from incurable diseases.
It’s too late for Shakir Cannon, who suffered from sickle cell disease and co-founded an organization to bring attention to gene editing and its potential to cure his disease. Lynne planned to interview Shakir for the series but the disease took its toll and he passed December 5, 2017, at the age of 34. His vision and passion about gene editing vibrantly live on.
There are no do-overs. If we don’t communicate with consumers openly and authentically from the beginning, we can’t hit the reset button to foster understanding and acceptance.
Round one is just now underway for this innovative technology.
Hitting the ground running with honest, values-based communication from relatable messengers is the key to earning trust and allowing those in food and agriculture to accomplish job one.
To learn more about supporting an informed dialogue on gene editing in food and agriculture, we encourage you to download “Gene Editing: Engage in the Conversation” from the CFI Coalition for Responsible Use in Gene Editing. The guide to engagement is based on communication research findings and CFI’s trust model. It also includes links to additional communication resources.
The Center for Food Integrity