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Experts Key to Communicating about Gene Editing

View the on-demand webinar Trust in Gene Editing: Your Company’s Future Depends on It.

You don’t have to be a scientist to talk about gene editing, but it may help to know one.

Most people don’t know much about gene editing, which is a method of selective breeding that makes precise, intentional and beneficial changes to in the genetic material of plants and animals, but there is opportunity to engage. More than half of consumers said they want to learn more about gene editing’s use in agriculture, according to consumer research.

Gene editing is expected to help farmers keep pace with the growing demand for more and better food, while using less water, land and other resources.

In order to make use of gene editing, it is crucial to ensure public support so the food system has the social license to responsibly develop the technology to its full potential.

Expert Advice

The CFI Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture developed a communication guide that shares tips and resources when it comes to talking about the technology: Gene Editing: Engage in the Conversation. Based on research from various organizations, the guide identified five effective communication approaches.

The first approach is leveraging the experts. Having spokespeople who are credentialed and relatable, and show integrity and share values, engage in the conversation is are one of the most effective ways to help people understand and trust gene editing.

When consumers were asked who they trust most for information about technology in food, several studies revealed similar findings.

  • Scientists, science leaders and academic institutions garnered the highest levels of trust.
  • Regulatory authorities were highly trusted, indicating the important role they play in building trust for gene editing.
  • A lack of engagement by regulators may be perceived negatively.

What about farmers? Some consumers value hearing directly from those who use the technology, but others believe that familiarity can impact their impartiality. Farmers are an important voice in the gene editing conversation but should not be the only voice.

Trust in Action

The impact of trustworthy experts was demonstrated in a three-part video series about CRISPR on BestFoodFacts.org. This series is hosted by a blogger on a mission to learn more about the use of CRISPR. The blogger, Lynne Feifer of 365 Days of Baking and More, conducted interviews with human health and agriculture experts.

More than half of the consumers who watched found the videos appealing, credible and understandable and they were interested in learning more. Acceptance of CRISPR grew significantly after watching the videos. For example, after viewing How Can CRISPR Improve Food?, consumer support for use of CRISPR went from 49%  before to 62% after.

We’re not suggesting that only PhD scientists engage in the conversation – the research simply shows it can be beneficial. Anyone who wants to earn trust in this promising technology should engage. And we have resources that can help, like Best Food Facts, Genetic Literacy Project and CRISPRcon. For a listing of more resources and tips, download the full communication guide.