GMO

Let’s Talk GMOs: A New Online Course from UConn CAHNR

let's talk GMOs text on blue and green backgroundAre you confused or do you have questions about GMOs?

Do you feel inadequate when discussing GMOs?

Are you given opposing information of GMOs and not sure what is right?

Do you wonder how the misinformation about GMOs spreads like a wildfire?

UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources is offering a new online course, Let’s Talk GMOs: Creating Consistent Communication Messages. This course introduces participants to the basics of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They will learn how to create consistent communication messages and manage dialogue processes about GMOs with various audiences. The synchronous course is launching in January 2021; it has six online modules and three optional virtual sessions with instructors. The introductory cost is $150.

Most people have an emotional reaction to GMOs. They either love them or hate them. The majority already have an opinion about GMOs when the topic comes up. Extension educators, land-grant communicators, and agricultural producers will be comfortable sharing science-based information with their audiences after completing this course. Our role is to provide unbiased information that helps our audience form their own opinion and share their information in a non-confrontational manner.

Participants in the course will learn more about the science of GMOs and how to talk about GMOs in small group sessions where those in the dialogue have differing opinions of GMOs. The course instructors and their modules are:

  • Robert Bird, a professor of business law in the Department of Marketing, presents the module on how misinformation spreads.
  • Bonnie Burr, the department head of Extension, presents the modules on public policy and GMOs, and difficult conversations.
  • Stacey Stearns, a program specialist with UConn Extension presents, the module on communication messages you can use and is the course facilitator.
  • Cindy Tian, a biotechnology professor in the Department of Animal Science, presents modules on the history of GMOs and dialogue management.

There are brief introductory and course wrap-up modules in addition to the six core modules. The first three modules take approximately one hour each. Participants should expect to spend two hours on the last three modules.

Registration for the course opens in late November. Those interested in receiving an email when course registration opens can fill out this form: http://bit.ly/LetsTalkGMOs_signup or email Stacey.Stearns@uconn.edu for more information.

Let’s Talk GMOs: Creating Consistent Communication Messages is an initiative of the GMO Working Group in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. The group has a multi-faceted outreach campaign to educate the public on the science of GMOs, offering background on the diverse application of GMOs with research-based consideration of the risks and benefits. Visit https://gmo.uconn.edu/ for additional resources from the team.

Genetic Engineering Professional Development

teachers in laboratory with Dr. Gerry Berkowitz learning about DNA and GMO ]The American public is growing increasingly skeptical about the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods. Despite consensus in the scientific community that foods containing GM ingredients are safe, nearly half of Americans believe otherwise. Younger adults are also more likely to regard GM foods a health risk.

In order to address misunderstandings about GM foods and provide information about the applications of genetic engineering in agriculture and other fields, a team is developing a program to enhance science literacy for educators and young adults. The team is collaborating to create a standards-based curriculum and laboratory-based professional development for secondary school teachers on genetic engineering. The project aims to build the knowledge and confidence of educators and provide them with materials to deliver lessons related to genetic engineering in their classrooms.

High school teachers will participate in training at the Storrs campus, where they will utilize laboratory resources and build connections with academia and industry professionals. The networking opportunity will also allow educators to share career opportunities in the field of genetics with students. In addition to the professional development workshop, the program will prepare simpler exercises that can be taught outside of classroom and without the resources of a lab setting, such as during 4-H youth activities, to introduce scientific concepts.

Read the full article at http://bit.ly/UConn_PDSTEP.

Article by Jason M. Sheldon

When did GMO become a dirty word?

man shopping in a grocery store aisle
Companies place the non-GMO label on their product as a marketing tool, either feeding off the fear generated by misinformation, or the demands of their consumers. (Stock photo via Anthony Albright, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Do you know someone with diabetes? While most people may associate GMOs with food products, their use actually began in the medical field with insulin.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved GMO insulin for use in October of 1982 after rigorous testing, clinical trials, and review. Prior to that, diabetics used insulin obtained from the pancreas of cattle or swine. Supplies were dwindling, and there was fear that the insulin shortage would result in negative health ramifications for patients. The recombinant DNA technology used, that we now refer to as GMOs, provided a safe and effective alternative. In fact, GMO insulin is a closer match to human insulin, and patients who could not tolerate insulin from a cow or pig can utilize GMO insulin without negative side effects.

Despite the benefits of GMOs, 80% of respondents to the 2018 Food and Health Survey Report from the International Food Information Council Foundation are confused about food or doubt their choices because of conflicting information. The report found that context of GMOs influenced consumer judgment. The Pew Research Center found that 49% of Americans think genetically modified foods are worse for one’s health. In short, many people may fear or be suspicious of GMOs, but there is a history of important effects that most people would applaud. Insulin is such a case.

Scientists create GMOs by changing the genetic code of a living being in some way. Plant and animal genetics have been altered for thousands of years through breeding. New technology lets scientists select a specific trait, instead of changing the entire genetic makeup. The medical, agricultural, and environmental fields all have GMO products.

Accepting or rejecting GMOs is an individual decision. However, all decisions consumers make should be based on facts. An overwhelming majority of scientists believe that GMOs are safe, according to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Information from science-based sources can be hard to find in the flood of information available on the Internet.

With that in mind, experts in agriculture, health and natural resources at the University of Connecticut (UConn) have established a web site (https://gmo.uconn.edu/) providing science-based information to help consumers make their own decisions about GMOs.

A handful of food products have approved GMO versions sold in the United States. These include: apples, canola, corn, papaya, pineapple, potatoes, salmon, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. Insect resistant and herbicide tolerant crops are the two most common features in GMO varieties. Only specific varieties have a GMO version in many of these products, for example, the Arctic apple. The Flavr Savr tomato was introduced in 1994 as the first GMO food product, but is no longer sold because it lacked flavor.

Consumers benefit from GMOs. Although the benefits aren’t always noticeable when you’re browsing the grocery store, they include:

  • Improving food safety of products,
  • Lowering consumer food prices,
  • Protecting food supplies from insects,
  • Limiting food waste on the farm and in your fridge,
  • Reducing the carbon footprint needed for food production, and
  • Keeping the environment healthy.

Despite the benefits, negative perceptions about GMOs are wide-spread. Consumer knowledge and acceptance of GMOs has not matched the pace of adoption by the agricultural community. Experts in the field concur that GMO communication campaigns have failed to answer the “what’s in it for me” question for the public. The majority of campaigns only cite the benefits to farmers, and feeding a growing global population. Consumers commonly reference changes to nutritional content, or the creation of allergens as concerns with GMOs, although there is no evidence of either.

I notice negative perceptions about GMOs in the supermarket, when foods are labeled as non-GMO even though it’s impossible for them to contain GMOs. Salt doesn’t have any genetics to modify, although you’ll find some salt labeled as non-GMO. Cat litter is another example of a product that can’t have GMOs, but is labeled non-GMO.

Companies place the non-GMO label on their product as a marketing tool, either feeding off the fear generated by misinformation, or the demands of their consumers. People without a clear understanding of GMOs spread misinformation on the Internet. Much of what is shared lacks science-based facts and the rigors of peer review. A common tactic is connecting scientists to biotechnology corporations. Ironically, many of the campaigners in the anti-GMO movement are paid to share these messages.

Consumers should form their own opinions about GMOs from the wealth of available science-based information and experts. Instead of accepting and spreading misinformation, shouldn’t we ask more questions, and turn to reliable sources instead?

Article by Stacey Stearns

The American Chestnut Tree: A GMO Story

video still animation of girl sitting under tree eating chestnuts

American Chestnut Trees once dominated our landscape. Then, a blight wiped most of them out. Researchers are using science to try and discover a way to revive these majestic trees. Watch the video to learn more.

Funding for this animation is from the UConn Extension Bull Innovation Fund and Northeast AgEnhancement.

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future

GMO panel flyer

GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future

Wednesday, April 24th

7 PM, UConn Student Union Theater, Storrs, CT

Finding understandable science-based information on GMOs is challenging for the public. Our project goal is to bridge the information gap surrounding GMOs with farmers and the general public.

Moderator: Dean Indrajeet Chaubey, UConn CAHNR

Speakers:

  • Paul Vincelli, Extension Professor & Provost Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Kentucky (focus area: overview of risks and benefits of genetically engineered crops)
  • Robert C. Bird, Professor of Business Law and Eversource Energy Chair in Business Ethics, UConn School of Business (focus area: Ethical/Legal/Social Implications of GMOs)
  • Yi Li, Professor, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, UConn CAHNR, (focus area: GMO technologies/CRISPR)
  • Gerry Berkowitz, Professor, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, UConn CAHNR (focus area: GMOs and big agriculture in the US?)

Download the flyer.pdf.

The event is free, but RSVPs are appreciated.

GMO Working Group Hosting April Events

GMO panel flyerThe CAHNR GMO Working Group is hosting GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future, a panel presentation on Wednesday, April 24th at 7 PM in the Student Union Theater. Please save the date and make plans to join us. The event is free and anyone is welcome to attend.

The panel is moderated by Dean Indrajeet Chaubey. Speakers include: Paul Vincelli from the University of Kentucky, Robert C. Bird from the School of Business, Yi Li from the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, and Gerry Berkowitz from the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. 

A second event, GMOs: Answering Difficult Questions from your Customers is specifically for farmers, but all are welcome to attend. Dr. Paul Vincelli from the University of Kentucky will give a presentation, followed by a question and answer session. The event is Thursday, April 25th at 7 PM at the Tolland County Extension Center in Vernon.

More information on both events is available at https://gmo.uconn.edu/events/.