(NCGA)--CommonGround volunteers and staff from state corn and soy associations gathered in St. Louis yesterday for the CommonGround Biotechnology Communications Workshop which was graciously sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association's Trade Policy and Biotechnology Action Team. The day-long event, held at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, featured internationally respected experts on biotechnology and a tour of the independent research facility.
"The energy and desire to learn that these women brought to the conference was inspiring," said NCGA Chairwoman Pam Johnson, who also attended. "They took full advantage of the opportunity to delve more deeply into the science behind common myths about biotech and GMOs, both actively listening and discussing these topics. Farmers must greatly intensify their efforts to help the public understand the benefits and importance of biotechnology in agriculture. I feel confident that these women will make the most of their interaction with these esteemed experts as they continue their conversations with consumers about food and farming."
The workshop began with an address from Johnson, who spoke passionately about the necessity of joining in the public dialogue about the use of biotechnology in agriculture. Reminding attendees of the importance of their efforts in this area, she encouraged them to take full advantage of the expertise within the room to increase the understanding and confidence they bring to these conversations.
Following Johnson, NCGA Director of Biotechnology and Economic Analysis Nathan Fields gave an opening talk on Biotech: 101. In his presentation, Fields covered the U.S. regulatory process, the most consistent attacks leveled against biotech and GMOs and a brief analysis of the positive impact crops developed this way have had on American corn and soy farming.
Dr. Martina Newell-McGloughlin, Director International Biotechnology Program, University of California, then gave the keynote presentation "Be Prepared! The Most Common Questions about Biotech." Her talk, which covered an incredible breadth of information in a thoughtful yet engaging manner, looked at the very questions which volunteers and NCGA grower leaders have encountered most often in conversations with both consumers and groups opposed to biotechnology. Newell-McGloughlin explained processes used to bring about change in crops prior to the advent of biotechnology and examined their effectiveness and safety. She then discussed the many studies frequently referenced through the lens of media and scientific literacy. Finally, she addressed how political and cultural trends can impact perception of science, but they cannot change scientific fact.
Next, Dr. Elizabeth Kellogg, who will join the staff of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center this January, gave an overview of the work done at the facility and provided a preview of upcoming traits developed using biotechnology that will provide health and nutritional benefits to those in some of the neediest parts of the world. Kellogg also gave a concise depiction of the mental and physical processes used by scientists in the development of new varieties.
The workshop concluded with a tour of the research facility including the labs, growth chambers and greenhouses. Asking questions as they went, the attendees saw for themselves how the sciences at this, and other similar, facilities conduct the research that develop the seed that they plant in their fields.
CommonGround is a grass-roots movement to foster conversation among women - on farms and in cities - about where our food comes from and how it is grown. The National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates developed CommonGround to start conversations between women who grow food and the women who buy it. It's a conversation grounded on volunteers who share their personal experience as farmers and support it with evidence based upon science and research. CommonGround's first goal is to help consumers understand that their food is not grown by a factory. It's grown by people, and it's important those on the farm that those off the farm can understand and trust the process. It's about knowing that America's families don't have to fear their food.