As farmers, we often invite the public to ask questions, we build social media pages for people to connect with us, and we may even open up our gates and doors for farm tours.
Yet, sometimes, we are the ones who must make the first move. This is especially true when speaking on hot-button topics such as antibiotic use, milk consumption, or — second to none in the ag debate — GMOs.
A Fresh Look is one of the newest efforts to give farmers a voice about GMOs and speak directly to the public, specifically from farmer moms to consumer moms. When it comes to the use of biotechnology in the food system, the public has noted concerns over health, control of the food supply, and the effects of chemical use on the environment.
“This is a family-farmer-led initiative. What makes A Fresh Look unique compared with some of the other GMO education campaigns that have happened in the past is that there isn’t industry involvement here. It really is a family-led program,” says Rebecca Larson, the campaign’s lead scientist.
Larson works for a farmer-owned cooperative with roughly 800 members that gives some financial support to the campaign. Her job with A Fresh Look is simple on the surface — be honest and faithful to the body of scientific knowledge about GMOs — yet the complexity of her work lies in the vast amounts of data that takes over social media without any corroboration, peer-review, or replication of supposed findings.
“A Fresh Look is based on solid, peer-reviewed research to support the claims that are being made,” says Larson, who’s 20-year-long career has centered largely on sugar beet research and has taken her through the private sector, the USDA, and the university level. “As a scientist and a mom, it made a lot of sense for me to get involved with this program.”
The voice of a farmer mom is relatable to consumer moms. A Fresh Look uses a variety of digital platforms to speak with folks: Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, activity on consumer publications online, and, of course, A Fresh Look’s website itself.
While almost every issue has hardliners (and A Fresh Look frequently responds to them in a very positive way on social media), the goal is really to help moms in the middle ground better understand the choices farmers make in relation to using GMO crops. It’s about learning why so many farmers embrace this technology.
As part of the outreach, those farmers will talk about yields being up 30 percent, and the fact that they’re now using half as much fuel, or fewer and safer pesticides every year.
“When a farmer talks about what they’re seeing on their farm, it’s really difficult to argue with someone’s reality,” Larson says.
They also address the differences between politically driven policymaking and policymaking that’s based on credible science and safety issues. And because so many farmers grow both conventional and organic crops, this campaign is focused on telling the story of modern ag and not intended to denigrate any process.
“I understand from a mom’s perspective all of the guilt associated with every decision throughout the day,” Larson said. “Part of my passion joining in on this campaign and supporting this campaign is to help alleviate some of that guilt associated with making buying decisions and to make better food choices based on facts and not on misinformation.”
While funding comes from farmers themselves, A Fresh Look has a broad base of national support, including from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.
And there has been much success to report since the campaign’s launch in September 2017.
A Fresh Look ran a rigorous study in partnership with Nielsen over its first 10 weeks and found that there was a 95 percent increase in comfort levels with GMOs among moms they could engage with — a significant number that further energized the campaign and the 20 or so farm moms who were boots-on-the-ground advocates talking to the public.
The hope is to speak to even more moms this year, and to build momentum by continuing to communicate in a way that makes a difference. A Fresh Look gives moms the resources to further educate themselves and to share their knowledge with others.
“Genetically modified organisms are hugely important to farmers,” Larson said. “And they understand it, because they’ve seen the quantum leap changes that have happened on farms. That is why they’re supporting a campaign like this — they see it as an integral part of their future. …
“It’s not only safe for consumers, but it’s also a huge win for the environment, with all of the fantastic benefits that GMOs bring to the average producer.”
These are some of the resources that A Fresh Look cites when discussing modern agriculture: