I talk a lot about adaptation, me being a big believer in Darwin’s theory of the “survival of the fittest”. Each week we report how people and their businesses adapt in rural Ireland. Starting this week, we are delighted to bring you a new series “Making our family farms work”. Dairy farmer Vanessa Kiely O’Connor shared with us what works for her and her family on their farm. Some of this might also work for you, some of it may not, but by sharing information and experiences we aim to help other businesses to adapt through the experiences of others.

Conferences have gone online but they still play an important role in continuous education. Every year the ASA Conference addresses the issue of biotechnology in agriculture and so it should – it is the Agricultural Science Association after all. However, despite its annual presence on the agenda, the discussion does not appear to be progressing.

We trust science for our health

At last week’s conference Daniella Taveau, an American regulatory and trade strategist, took the opportunity to once again complain that EU policy on biotechnology, genetic modification (GM) and crop protection, is dictated by public opinion and not science. Her advice: that the EU needs to work on the misrepresentation of agriculture, particularly in relation to GM.

We trust science for our health. If you want, you can get a drive-through test in 24 hours at Dublin airport and in this week’s health pages, Margaret Hawkins reports on technology that claims to deliver a test result for COVID-19 in 15 minutes with a prick of your finger. And I am confident that when/if an approved vaccine becomes available, many of us will get it.

Diabetes is a disorder in which the body’s blood glucose levels remain too low or too high. It is treated successfully with an injection of insulin. Natural insulin can be taken from the pancreas of pigs or cattle, but this supply is limited. So nowadays most insulin is manufactured using GM bacteria. I have never heard any objection to this, or if there is the health of people is valued over any perceived negatives of GM technology.

There is an underlying language that the farming systems of the past were “better”

So why do consumers trust science in medicine but not in agriculture? Is it down to the “misrepresentation of agriculture” that Ms Taveau referenced? Perhaps it is not a science communication issue we have but rather a food marketing issue. There is an underlying language that the farming systems of the past were “better”. This type of marketing is doing a disservice to European and Irish agriculture and the innovative farmers who have invested in their businesses. It is also potentially damaging for consumers too, as this is not sustainable long term.

Consumers may eventually have to look at their food as they do their medicine. That is – you can have this insulin/food but it is in short supply and you might not be able to get it when you want it or at a price you can afford. Alternatively, you can have this insulin/food produced using modern technology in quantities where supply is guaranteed and at a reasonable price.

We have trusted science in the management of the COVID-19 virus. Perhaps it is time to trust science in agriculture too and use it to market our industry in a responsible manner for the future. And let people choose.