GMOs, better known as Genetically Modified Organisms, have been on the Canadian market since 1994. It is only recently that people are becoming more vocal regarding GMOs in the food supply. Regardless where you look, GMO campaigns are actively engaging people to choose a side. Are you pro-GMO, or anti-GMO? Media has taken this new wave of extremism as an excellent opportunity to push agendas, and disguise the actual issues. People are bombarded with so much information that it’s hard to process what information is accurate, and what information media falsifies. Terms such as pro-science, organic, and Monsatan are blasted across social media, news and television; which causes people throughout the world to form opinions on a subject that have been formulated through the actions of agenda setting.
The idea that media “[can not tell you] what to think, but what to think about” has a strong tie to the GMO debate. (Griffin, 375) Media also uses the framing technique, where media tells us as a general public how to think about a certain topic of interest. Through the use of the framing technique, media is able to report a side of the story they want you to hear and buy into. Reporters, journalists, and bloggers easily twist information to suit their agenda, and often don’t have credible sources. The fact that these media makers use techniques such as framing, gate keeping, and/or agenda setting to portray an aspect of the story they want people to hear, is exactly where the heated GMO debate becomes so inflamed.
People often read headlines to articles, especially in social media, such as “Monsanto’s GMO Frankenwheat: It’s What’s for Breakfast?” (Sputnik US), and “Seeds of Doubt - An activist’s controversial crusade against genetically modified crops.” (Michael Specter) With titles as such, they attract the attention the writer wants from their audience, which is fear. Social media has developed amazing methods of blowing up misinformation, and spinning it as truth. It’s no surprise we often feel at war, online and offline, when discussing food production across the globe. Anti-GMO activities often partner with companies or individuals that have harnessed the ability and skills needed to instill fear in the mass public. What better way to get their anti-GMO message across than using a theory such as agenda setting? The use of such theory allows anti-GMO campaigns to become wide spread quickly.
These campaigns often cling to a minute point that an activist chooses to spin out of proportion. By using fear and one tiny ounce of a twisted-fact, anti-GMO campaigners have created a war against a sustainable society. Activists refuse to acknowledge any form of scientific research as fact and credibility that GMOs are safe, and would rather use information that is distorted as truth. The fact that a large majority of anti-GMO campaigners reside in first world countries, where they do not have to worry about or become concerned with starvation, disease and malnourishment; is almost always over looked by the media. People prefer to make themselves look like saviors in the eyes of the public, and would like the media to believe they are actually saving the world from things that are not natural, rather than acknowledging continued campaigns against GMOs are actually causing a greater determent to society. People believe in a romanticized version of agriculture, something that only Mother Nature has control over. The public does not enjoy the idea of humans creating superior plants species that will eventually create a healthier and more economically desirable plate on their dinner table. Due to the general public being bombarded with inaccurate information regarding what a GMO really is, people are often not interested in learning the correct facts about a GMO. As the public becomes more and more removed from agriculture, it is important that the agricultural community finds a way to help educate and show transparency to its opposition. People are not responding well to the war between pro-GMO and anti-GMO activists. This fight is becoming rather one sided, and fingers are starting to point in directions they should not. If pro-GMO activists don’t take the opportunity to help educate the general public, the world’s supply of food may become jeopardized.
Pro-GMO activist have not been able to use theories such as agenda setting to their advantage. People who are against the pro-GMO movement see the pro-GMO campaigns as the agricultural world choosing not to be transparent. They feel as if pro-GMO campaigns are simply covering up information they don’t want the public to see, when in fact the pro-GMO campaigns are highlighting accurate and factual information. Anti-GMO activists often cling to the one twisted fact that everyone in agriculture is connected to large corporations such as Monsanto, and instantly push all factual information aside, classifying all of the agricultural industry as being an agenda setter. The fact that not everyone in agriculture is connected to corporations such as Monsanto is something people who are against GMOs do not want to hear. They would much prefer to believe what the media has manipulated them to believe. “The medium is the message” and how someone presents information to his or her target audience plays a role in how we perceive the message. (Griffin, 316)
With the mass confusion between myth and fact, the key communication theory that agricultural industry members need to use to help fight back against the anti-GMO movement is rhetoric. The general public has been scared into believing information that is not truthful, and has caused more harm. Should the general public really be afraid of GMO’s? Are we really playing God when working to create higher quality genetics? These questions are legitimate and deserve a fair answer. They do not deserve to be demonized by the media’s agenda. Pro-GMO campaigns are working to create a more transparent and open dialogue, with no fear attached. Large corporations are adopting new ways to approach the public’s concerns, and help expand on questions that need answers. People in North America don’t care to hear that we need GMOs to help feed the billions of people that will be living on our planet in 2050. They also don’t care about producing more yields in our crops, as they cannot comprehend the idea of needing more food. North Americans deal with a large amount of obesity and food waste; therefore, the idea of starvation, disease or malnutrition, which are all aspects that can be cured with GMO crops, is not something they can easily accept. To the North American public, GMOs simply mean that companies are being greedy and malicious by destroying Mother Nature. They also believe that by creating unnatural organisms, these GMOs are potentially unsafe. This is something anti-GMO campaigns coin as evil simply because Mother Nature did not create it. It is infrequent that the anti-GMO movement acknowledges the use of GMOs to help preserve rainforests, and to help nourish people in third world countries. With the creation of GMOs, pro-GMO campaigns are also excited to show the advancement in science and human ability. By continuing with the use of rhetoric, pro-GMO campaigns are able to show the transparency that the anti-GMO campaigns do not. Approaching anti-GMO campaigns with rhetoric platforms such as sustainability, collaboration, food, and safety will provide for more constructive discussions. One-sided discussions are not helping create a healthy environment for debunking myths, and do not help reset the media’s agenda, or create an environment for two oppositions to collaborate.
It is always encouraged to do research before making an opinion on a topic. The anti-GMO movement does not allow for individuals to make up their own mind. They use media to help tell their unknowing public what to think, and how to think about it. The pro-GMO movement has had to fight back, providing the media opportunities to destroy and/or portray them in an inaccurate fashion. If people are not presented with factual information, how can someone make an accurate decision on the matter? Without first hand experience and accurate facts, people will continue to believe what the media has to say. The only way someone can change their beliefs, is to examine the very issue they don’t agree with, and provide themselves with opportunities where they will learn. The pro-GMO movement is working towards creating more opportunities where everyone can learn and gain accurate knowledge on a heated topic. People should not fear what they are putting on their dinner plate, and what their family is eating. The use of GMOs in today’s society is needed to create a sustainable future. With the knowledge and resources we have available in 2015, the media needs to portray how far we have come as a society. The media does not need to demonize agriculture, or the pro-GMO movement, simply because they have the power to create an agenda, and choose to manipulate the information they want the public to hear.
Does the public need to fear GMOs and join the anti-GMO campaign? They only need to if the public prefers to be part of the media’s agenda.
Lamb, Brett (2012, Sept. 6) Agenda Setting Function Theory – Media in Minutes – Episode 3
(Video file) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7qf9gQpoF4
Sputnik (2015, Jan. 17) Monsanto’s GMO Frankenwheat: It’s What’s for Breakfast?
Retrieved from Sputnik International News
Specter, Michael (2014, Aug. 25) Seeds of Doubt – An activist’s controversial crusade
against genetically modified crops. Retrieved from The New Yorker
Griffin, E., Ledbetter, A. & Sparks, G. (2015) A First Look at Communication Theory 9th Ed.
New York: McGraw-Hill
Real, Michael (as cited in Em Griffin: A First Look at Communication Theory Boston: McGraw-
Hill, 2009) (2015, May 14) Seven Traditions in Communication Theory handout