Help! Social media is making me scared of my food!

Have you ever wondered where your food comes from? Do you wonder what’s really in there? You’re not alone! There is so much information coming our way on social media on a daily basis about what’s good for you that it’s hard to sift through and make sense of it all. It’s hard to get a real sense of what the truth is.

Why do I care?

For one thing, as a mom I’m much more conscious of the food choices I make and I want to make sure my daughter is eating well. Aside from that, I recently started working in the agriculture sector. I’m not going to lie, prior to getting started in this business I knew very little about my food. True, I grew up in a rural area of Ottawa with semi-regular contact with farmers, so I was probably a little bit more connected to the industry than the average Canadian, but I certainly would not have called myself well-informed.

The entire industry to me was overwhelming, with information coming at me from all sides about what I should or shouldn’t put into my body. There wasn’t a day where I didn’t hear something on social media like ‘Don’t eat sugar, it’ll kill you’ or ‘Don’t eat GMO’s, don’t you know they cause cancer?’ or ‘Eat vegan! Eating meat is the new smoking’. Ever since starting my job in agriculture, I’ve been insatiably curious about all things related to food. What am I really eating anyway? The area that got me the most curious? GMOs.

What does GMO even mean? 

A GMO is a Genetically Modified Organism. In science speak that means a plant that has been developed with genetic engineering. Generally, that translates into taking a plant and adding, altering or taking something away to make it perform better. This can mean making it more drought resistant, unaffected by certain pests or decreasing the amount of fuel required to farm it, among other things. This page will tell you all you want to know about GMOs and more.

GMOs are

(Photo Credit: GMO Answers)

What’s all the fuss about?

Many of you have likely seen the movements: #RightToKnow, #nonGMO #antiGMO #GMOlabelling, etc. Some of you may even subscribe to these beliefs. #RightToKnow alone has a hashtag exposure per hour of 14,271, according to ritetag.com.

The question I have for you, which is the same thing I ask myself, is do I really know enough about what this is to make an informed decision to be for or against it? Chances are we don’t.

According to a CBC article, “consumers have little understanding about the science of what many dubbed “Frankenfood”. Often, it’s confused with goods that have had additives like preservatives or hormone injections”. This lack of understanding, in my opinion, is because we are so frequently being told on social media that GMOs are bad for us that we don’t take the time to decide if they actually are. If you follow food related content on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you’ve likely heard that GMOs will cause learning disorders, cancer, heart disease, mental illness, diabetes and so much more. The group @healthy_facts_ makes many claims like this.

Bad GMOs

(Photo Credit: @healthy_facts_)

With all of this fear driven attention, how do we know what’s true and what’s not? If someone told me something would cause all of those problems, I’d probably want to avoid it too! But… by succumbing to the fear, we’re not getting all of the facts. For example, did you know that the insulin that is provided to those people suffering from diabetes, the very thing that GMOs are being accused of causing, is actually produced by means of genetic modification? The insulin, which was previously created by using the pancreas of animals is GMO and is now easier to produce and at a much faster rate. Would anyone really deny someone with diabetes access to insulin, simply because it’s GMO? And more importantly, can something that’s ‘so bad’ really be producing something that is actually saving lives? Check out more about GMO insulin here.

So what’s missing? 

In my opinion, it’s stories like the one above that we’re missing. Our attention is so focused on the scary side of things that we’re missing the facts and all of the positives that come from genetic modification. There are new movements on this front, such as #factsnotfear, #moms4GMOs, #Dads4GMOs and many more. There’s even a film out there that aims to push back against all of the fear-invoking claims online called ‘Food Evolution’. The film encourages viewers to #FeastOnFacts not fear. These campaigns are all trying to bring positive dialogue into what’s being done, but countering the large-scale social media campaign against GMOs will take time and more involvement from farmers, scientists, the food industry and supporters. Take into consideration the fact that the campaigns I mentioned above did not even rank on ritetag.com. In fact, they fell under the category of hashtags that you shouldn’t use because very few people are following them.

#moms4GMOs

(Photo credit: @IWF)

With that said, I think that a big part of the problem in spreading the word about the positives of GMO’s, is that the industry has been too focused on communicating the facts and science through traditional means. They instead need to focus on increasing their dialogue with the world on social media, which is where the fear-invoking side of this battle is being waged. As we know, social media provides us with a place to share our thoughts, whether they are based on science or not, and the science is not necessarily what people want to hear. People are moved by emotion, how something makes them feel. By causing your audience to be frightened, you’re doing a much better job of engaging them than you would be by bombarding them with science-based facts like: it takes a company from 7 to 10 years to bring a GMO to market, and during that time the product must undergo rigorous government testing.  It’s hard to connect to that. What I can connect to is that biotech products are actually doing good work for our environment. Did you know that GMOs actually help to reduce the environmental impact of farming and help to improve our air quality?

Where does this leave us?

According to the UN, the world’s population is expected to swell to 9.8 billion people by 2050. That means that we will need to come up with innovative ways to produce more food, on less land, to meet the rising global needs. Canadian farmers, as the 5th largest agricultural exporters globally, are stepping up in a big way to meet these challenges, while at the same time aiming to leave valuable green spaces untouched. This is the story that must be told on social media. It must be told in an engaging way to make sure that people understand both sides of the spectrum to really decide how they feel about it.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, especially on social media, but I just hope that we all do our best to form that opinion in the best way possible. Without the fear.

I’d love to hear what you think about this and to hear what your thoughts are on GMOs in general. Did you know what they were and how do you feel about them? Have you seen or interacted with any of the GMO campaigns?

twitter   Are you afraid of your food? Get ready to #FeastOnFacts! #FactsNotFear #GMO

facebookIs social media making you afraid of your food? You’re not alone. #Resist the fear and check out my latest blog! #FactsNotFear #GMO

8 thoughts on “Help! Social media is making me scared of my food!

  1. I absolutely loved your blog post — it was extremely well written, well researched and incredibly informative and thought-provoking. I’d have to agree with you, that in the health conscious, research-driven, informed world live in, we as a collective society, are still so in the dark when it comes to the topic of GMOs. I think you did an amazing job shedding light on how the reliance of GMOs isn’t always a bad thing especially when you take into consideration food sustainability and medical advancements.

    • Thank you Courtney! I really appreciate your feedback! I was really hoping to get people to stop and think about both sides, so I’m glad to hear that you felt it was thought-provoking. I have to admit that even working in the industry, I was in the dark about some of the things that we’re able to do with GMOs. Writing this blog really helped me to learn more about the possibilities that are out there.

  2. Great post, Kim — starting with the “Frankenphoto” of the “Frankenfruit!” I see GMO’s, like the anti-vaccine movement,, as areas where the passion of concerned activists often does not match their scientific knowledge. I am not ready to be anti-GMO in a sweeping way; there are worrisome examples and ones that are not at all worrisome in my mind. If I were to rank my concerns about commercial food production, GMO’s wouldn’t even be in the top 5. For example, I’m more concerned about having a food labels that are actually reliable, informative and easily understood; I’d like to have a Health Canada with teeth (how long did it take to get trans fats, a proven killer, out of our food?) Thanks for doing your homework on the fear-mongering that social media can contribute to.
    Rob

    • Thank you for the feedback Rob! I really appreciate your thoughts on this. You make a really interesting point about Health Canada and labeling. There have been many changes to the way that we label our food, but I do often wonder about what else is required. For me, I think about things like sugar and how many different names we have for it, and how difficult it can be to determine what’s in our food. Since becoming a mom, sugar is something for me that has become more of an area of concern. I don’t want my toddler loaded up on sugar all the time. Having labels that are easier for the average person to read would go a long way to helping out with making decisions about the foods that I give to her.

  3. This was a great blog and very well written. I agree that there is so much scare tactics out there and I did watch a CBC program that featured 3 or 4 of these fad diets and how their claims are actually faceless and have never been proven to help or hurt anyone. Thanks for clearing up some of the misunderstandings of GMO’s.

    • That you for your comment! I really appreciate the feedback. That sounds like it would have been a really interesting program to watch.

  4. What an interesting fact about insulin production for diabetes!! I think people tend to hop on the ‘band wagon’ based on news that is fed to us through social media without questioning the things we are supporting. And what makes it more difficult is that more articles pop up all the time that contradict passed theories (i.e fat used to be the devil and now we celebrate high fat diets). It’s important to be informed before throwing out hashtags to the universe and joining in on conversations. I really enjoyed your post, thank you for the eye opener!

    • Thanks for your comments, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I thought the fact about insulin was pretty interesting as well. You definitely raise a good point about contradicting information. There is certainly a lot of it out there and it makes it very difficult to know what’s accurate.

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