19 November 1999

Promote benefits of new production techniques

By Andrew Blake

NEW technology backers must work much harder to get the good news about the latest plant production techniques across to the general public.

That was the firm message from Christine Bruhn of Californias Centre for Consumer Research in the 26th Bawden lecture opening this years British Crop Protection Council conference in Brighton.

"The future should look bright, but it doesnt," said Prof Bruhn. Unless new technology promoters address consumer concerns and misunderstandings more effectively society will suffer, she argued.

"Everyone favours production of safe food, but people differ as to how safe is safe enough." One common misconception is that organic production is safer and kinder to the environment, she said. "The question is what will the public think when they find they have been misled?"

On GM techniques, Prof Bruhn referred to a recent survey which showed only 40% of UK consumers recognised that the statement "ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes, while genetically modified ones do" was false.

That and other survey findings suggest lack of trust and misinformation are the main blocks on innovations that could improve the safety and quality of food supplies.

Clear messages about new techniques are needed and must contain all the pros and cons, plus any alternatives and uncertainties, she noted. Short videos have been very effective in changing public perceptions in the US.

Human benefits should be the focus, not statistics, she added. "People are interested in people." Transparency is also vital. "It means sharing what is known, not in scientific detail – people dont care – but showing the potential positive and negative effects on human health and the environments."

GM technology is merely a tool, Prof Bruhn said. "By itself, it is neither good or bad. It is the application of it that provides benefits, and not to use it would be a shame." She likened destruction of GM crop trials to burning books. &#42

NEW TECH BENEFITS

&#8226 Poorly understood.

&#8226 Better communication needed.

&#8226 Concerns need addressing.

&#8226 Transparency the key.