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Gene Editing: It’s an Evolution, Not a Revolution

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

How can you talk to consumers about gene editing when most have little understanding of how plants are bred?

The Coalition for Responsible Gene Editing in Agriculture, formed by CFI in 2016 as a partnership of stakeholders who share a vision of global acceptance for the responsible use of gene editing in agriculture and food, understands that building trust in gene editing is essential so that the food system has the social license to use the technology in a responsible matter.

The Coalition analyzed consumer research about communicating about biotechnology and they discovered that some methods of communicating are more effective than others.

One discovery was that talking about the evolution of gene editing technology – instead of describing it as a revolution – helped people to understand it better.

Scientists have every right to be proud of advancements. However, talking about how science can “revolutionize” food production does not resonate with consumers.

The public is more supportive when gene editing is described within the context of plant and animal genetic improvement, which has a legacy of safe, responsible use spanning several generations. Rather than being a revolutionary technique, consumers are more comfortable when gene editing is approached as an evolution of the next iteration of improvement.

Conversation Starters

Ready to get involved in the conversation? Here are some ideas to get started and talk about gene editing as an evolution.

“Farmers and animal scientists have used genetic diversity and natural selection for several decades by choosing animals with the most desirable characteristics as the parents of the next generation. Gene editing is the next iteration to improve animals’ native genes. Gene editing allows for precise and small but important changes, which often mirror changes that could occur in nature or through traditional selection.”

“Throughout history, farmers have been breeding plants for the best characteristics, like disease resistance and drought tolerance. The lengthy process of observing, selecting and breeding can take years or even decades to complete. Today, scientists can use gene editing to make more precise, targeted changes to improve plants and provide solutions to a variety of challenges.”

When discussing gene editing, keep in mind that there is a considerable knowledge gap among consumers – in science, genetics and modern plant and breeding. Most people have a limited knowledge about breeding methods that have been used for several decades, such as conventional selection and metagenesis. The public’s understanding about genetics in food is also limited. For instance, about a third of consumers think vegetables do not have DNA.

How can you have a meaningful dialogue? Apply the principles of shared values communication: Actively listen without judgment; ask questions to invite dialogue and clarify their perspective; share your values-based perspective first to build trust.

Want to learn more about how you can engage in the conversation about gene editing? Download the communication resource.