Yesterday, I had the opportunity to give a talk to a group representing the agricultural industry in Alberta. The presentation – Fifty Shades of Hype: myths, the media and misconceptions around the science of agriculture and food – generated lots of good discussion. (Thanks for the hospitality, folks!)
“In Canada, where only 2% of the population lives on farms, we struggle with a rural / urban divide … In some cases we romanticize agriculture and food production. In some cases we demonize it…our pull to nostalgia can be so strong that we sometimes fall into the realm of magical thinking. Does this leave us open to buying into constructed myths around science and agricultural production?
Myths and mythmaking, as an oral tradition, have always been an important part of society. Myths can illustrate simple moral lessons; they provide context and explanation under conditions of perceived or real uncertainty. They provide pathways for connecting us to that nostalgic past we so desperately want to cling to. They are a gateway to a more promising future. Myths possess authority by appealing to the values and beliefs of society through symbolic representations. Words and images, combined, help to position and augment myths in society.
But myths can be misleading. And when fabrications are shrouded as reality, they can really undermine important social goals – – – like health, food security and innovation. When that happens, good science is undermined and farming is put in a very bad light. All this can lead to poor public policy, over-regulation of markets and bottlenecks in innovation. And this is bad for everyone.
We need to separate fact from belief…we need to separate the rhetoric from the realities. The agriculture and food production system is just that – a system. It is complex. It is way more complex than simply saying that GMO is bad and organic is good or vice versa. At the farm level, it is more than just picking a production method. And biotechnology is just one tool in the box. Ag and food production is a matter of combining integrated pest management systems, crop rotations and min or no till practice to maximize yields and to reduce impacts on the environment.
The ‘bigger picture’ of what science and ag/food production offers for food security and the environment can get lost in the mythological rhetoric.”