Tag Archives: Biotechnology

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

While perusing the Internet the other day, I came across a great quote from Abraham Lincoln – “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” Of course, the irony is that there were obviously no computers – and furthermore no Internet – in Abe’s day, but it made a great point. With the advent of the Internet, we (as a society) have gotten lazy and careless about what we post and what we believe. The same day, a friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook that claimed Monsanto refuses to serve GM (genetically modified) foods in their own company cafeterias. There was nothing to reveal the source of this information. There was no evidence or proof to back up the claim. And yet, there was a feeding frenzy in the way people ate this up and forwarded it on as fact.

Alex FBlog photo

I took the time to do some of my own research on this subject and confirmed that it is, indeed, false (metabunk.org, monsantoblog.com). It all stemmed from a story about ONE particular Monsanto location (out of hundreds), and the claim was made by Sutcliffe Catering Group, NOT Monsanto employees. Then Greenpeace (an organization with an anti-GMO agenda) jumped on board and ran with the story to the point that every time it was told, more exaggerations were added to the story until the final product is a simple photo of a cafeteria brimming with tasty looking foods and one line about how Monsanto won’t even serve its own GM foods in its own cafeterias. Without fail, people seemed to pass this false image on with the click of a button, believing it to be true.  

People have always feared new technologies and things they do not understand. That’s nothing new. Isaac Asimov capitalized upon this to sell millions of books about robots conquering the human race. What’s new is the accessibility of the Internet to promote this fear mongering with the click of a button. People have a tendency to believe what they read without ever questioning it or researching its authenticity. I admit, I have fallen into this realm at times, usually forwarding a political post that is maybe a half truth. That’s the other thing to be aware of: it’s easy to make something look or sound bad when it is taken out of context. I am much more keenly aware now and scrutinize heavily whatever I may choose to pass on. I call out friends when their posts are inaccurate. It truly is a challenge to sort out fact from fiction and definitely easier to just click that “forward” button. However, it is our responsibility to make sure what we are posting is accurate.

Aside from checking with experts in the industry to confirm or deny the truthfulness of statements, make sure you check those posts against “fact-checking sites,” which do the research for you.  You’ll be surprised at how much you read that is “sort of true.” That is to say, maybe they got the headline right but most of the story is wrong. Check your friends’ posts and people who leave comments on stories. Don’t be afraid to call them out when they are wrong…just make sure you have the evidence to back it! Here are some fact-checking sites to help in your endeavor: Snopes, Fact Check, Truth or Fiction and About.com Urban Legends.

Smithsonian Documents Ag Innovation

Technology is ever changing, and that doesn’t exclude the agriculture industry. That is why the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History has recently developed a website where the public can share stories about topics including: precision farming, foodborne illness tracking, environmental concerns, government practices, crop irrigation, biotechnology and hybrid seeds.

The Smithsonian’s Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive site partners with Farm Bureau, reaching out  to America’s farmers, ranchers and agri-businesses to collect stories, photographs and ephemera to accurately portray our country’s agricultural heritage. The items will also play a role in the “American Enterprise” exhibition, an 8,000-square-foot multimedia experience that focuses on the importance of business and innovation in the U.S. from the mid 1700s to today. The exhibit is set to open in May 2015.Pat C

Tennessee farmer Pat Campbell provided the exhibit with its first donation. He submitted a selection of photographs and a computer cow tag and reader unit from his dairy farm to show the changes in technology from the hand-labor intensive process to the computer-run operation.  He also shared his personal story of how technology has made his operation run more efficiently and safely.

To learn more about the Smithsonian/Farm Bureau partnership and how you can participate, read this week’s Focus on Agriculture column by Erin Anthony.

Different Countries, Similar Challenges

American journalist Linda Ellerbee once said that people everywhere are pretty much the same. “It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities,” she said. After participating in a recent agriculture fellowship in Germany, it is clear that both U.S. and German farmers share more similarities than may initially meet the eye. 

The Genn Family, father and sons, rear bulls in Wehr, Germany.

German farmers have a deep love for what they do, which is paralleled with their commitment to their animals, the future of their industry and the good of their country, which is not so different from U.S. farmers. But, as people are pretty much the same everywhere, so, too, are consumers, activists and the media. And because of this, German and U.S. farmers are also facing very similar challenges with how they farm in a world that is becoming more and more removed from agriculture.

While two-thirds of Germans live in rural areas and every eighth job in Germany depends on agriculture, farming is not the thriving sector it once was. Like many other countries, urban encroachment, stringent regulations and food politics are forcing farms out of production in Germany. 

Farm stands, such as this one right outside of Frankfurt, help German farmers connect with consumers.

Seventy percent of the German population resides outside of the cities, yet a sentimental majority of people want to see a “romantic” countryside. A farm with more than 10 cows is considered too many. And while German farms are relatively small by U.S. standards, this growing feel-good sentiment is hindering German farms from expanding and diversifying. 

Consumer opinion is displayed most prevalently on German grocery store shelves. Because of a growing push for sustainability from activists groups, more and more grocery chains are requiring sustainable certification on food products. According to German food policy experts, it’s very difficult to get a grocer to sell a product if it’s not deemed sustainable. Yet, grocers will not pay additional for sustainable products, the cost stays within the food chain. 

As in America, animal welfare has become a hot-button political issue in Germany. Because of the 2009 European Union ban on hen cages, many German farmers have moved their hens to other countries with less rigid regulations, only to sell them back into the German system. As the saying goes, “Aus den augen, aus dem sinn,” or out of sight, out of mind. 

Unlike America, there is little open discussion in Germany on most issues, biotech crops being a prime example. Ninety-eight percent of Germans are against biotech food technologies. The issue was null and void from the get-go. Currently, the country is finding itself in the same situation with the use of nuclear power. After the crisis of Fukushima in Japan, without much thought or discussion, activist groups have been on a crusade to abolish all German nuclear energy plants. 

Unfortunately, for German agriculture organizations, there’s not enough money in their budgets to meet these activists head on. So, farming groups are instead using their resources to train farmers to be spokespeople. They are having conversations with consumers and becoming more transparent on their farms. German farmers are getting personal. They are “andere seiten aufziehen” – changing tune and getting tough. Sound familiar? 

By defining our similarities instead of focusing on our differences, German and U.S. farmers will likely find they are very close to one another in their ideals and challenges, sharing more commonality than an ocean can divide. 

Tracy Grondine is director of media relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. In October, she visited Germany as a McCloy Fellow in Agriculture as part of an exchange program supported by the American Council on Germany.