ISF Congress Emphasizes Collaboration and Communication

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A veterinarian turned lawyer shares insights about communicating science and technological advancements with the general public during the Breeders Committee meeting at the International Seed Federation’s 2015 World Seed Congress in Kraków, Poland.

Seed breeding provokes a conflict in values and faces romanticism, said Jan Staman who serves as managing director for the Rathenau Instituut in The Netherlands. The Rathenau Instituut promotes the formation of political and public opinion on science and technology.

As part of his presentation, he encouraged the seed industry to check how disconnected it is from society. “This is a big risk for the industry,” he said. “This is my business, and this is a crisis. This is the case with GMOs and the case with detecting genetic diseases in humans.”

Staman also noted that many of these new technologies have the ability to make more of a positive impact, which outweighs the possible risks posed.

From his perspective, the industry has done a good job of talking about the benefits of new technologies; however, it has failed to talk about how these new technologies will totally change society.

While some might blame politics for the rejection of new technologies, Staman said politics are not going away. “You need a political frame for decision-making, which complies with societal pluralism,” he said. “You have to be engaged to society and consumers.”

In a somewhat joking manner, Staman said the focus shouldn’t be citizens, but consumers. He went on to say that citizens are loud speaking political activists whom you can’t trust and can’t predict, while consumers buy your product.

It’s important to note that the seed industry isn’t alone in dealing with this issue. Staman shared that the animal husbandry, pharmaceutical and oil industries are all in the same environment when it comes to communicating innovation and science.

In helping the seed industry move forward in sharing its story about innovation and plant breeding, Staman shared the following tips:

  1. Do not communication but act, and cherish trust.
  2. Do not immunize yourself as enlightened science-based savers of the world, solvers of food security and enforcers of (moral) progress but go out of your comfort zone, ask for help and stop saying “new technology is modified old technology.”
  3. Act and cherish your values and interests. For identity, you need confirmation and contestation.
  4. Investigate the conditions for a good lobby: wrong friends, clever friends, isolated frame, trust problem, CI negative or not present.
  5. Carefully select your societal partners and together explore building a foundation for the future. And act.

To learn more about the Rathenau Instituut, visit http://www.rathenau.nl/en.html.

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