View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

The stories we tell

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Today I came across an interesting news story about high-yielding wheat. The second sentence of the article pulled me up:

“The new plant application… could help to solve the issue of increasing food insecurity across the globe; 795 million people are undernourished and this year’s El Nino has shown how vulnerable many countries are to climate-induced drought.”

I don’t doubt these facts, but can’t stop dwelling on the productionist outlook, and whether we alienate people with this approach. 795 million people are undernourished in a world which produces enough food – we can turn people off by implying that the link between yield and food security is a simple one.

The growing population and changing diets mean we do need to increase yields, and resistance to drought will certainly be essential. But I can imagine someone reading that sentence and thinking ‘fools, don’t they realise that yields aren’t the issue here’, and therefore discounting the research.

The recent discussion of a ‘post-truth world’ on Radio 4 helped me understand why most conservative Americans deny climate change. I recommend a listen, but in summary the conservatives heard that those godless liberal scientists had got together with the greedy wall streeters to come up with a new tax on carbon.

The issue here isn’t the facts. The conservatives are told about climate change by people they don’t trust using language which they aren’t comfortable with. The story is what’s important.

There’s a valuable lesson in here about communicating agricultural science. Are we telling our story in a way which will elicit mistrust? Do we fail to see how other people’s starting point is different to ours?

I was also a little unsure about ‘solve the issue’ – when there are so many solutions needed, any talk of solving can appear narrow minded (In my fiction writing I’m eliminating unnecessary words – maybe I’m over sensitive!).

Increasing yields and improving access to food aren’t mutually exclusive. Most people discussing yields understand that we need both approaches, and they can adjust their language to reflect this.

Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website:

One thought on “The stories we tell

  1. Radio 4 Today at 8:35 5/1/17
    “British farmers grow less than they could, they cannot improve their productivity in the way American farmers can thanks to the EU’s “insane hostility to innovation”. That was the claim made by the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson on the programme yesterday, saying that he had recently visited the headquarters of chemical company BASF and heard their concerns. We speak to Paul Leonard, the head of innovation technology policy for BASF, and Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP who sits on the Agricultural Committee at the EU parliament.”

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