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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Reframing GM

A guide to communicating your concerns about GM in food and farming more effectively

Genetic modification (GM) has been given a facelift. Vested interests around the world are lobbying to give highly experimental GM techniques free rein in our food and on our farms. If we want people to understand how wrong this is we need to shift the way the discussion is framed.

All communications are “framed” by the associations that come into our minds when we see, hear or experience something. By choosing one word or image over another we can influence how people think, feel and relate to GM in food and farming. Careful framing can change people’s thinking and the questions they ask. Ralph Underhill from Framing Matters explains framing very well in this video.

Image demonstrating the risks of manipulating DNA

OUR FIVE TOP TIPS:

1) Call out rebranding:
Gene editing is genetic modification with better PR

Gene editing is a new and fashionable form of genetic modification (GM). It has been rebranded to persuade people to accept it. “Editing” sounds positive, accurate and controlled but it is just as risky and error prone as older GM techniques. We need to make it clear that gene editing is GM with better PR.

Say:

Genetic manipulation

Plants (or animals) created in the lab

New, experimental forms of genetic engineering (or genetic modification)

When you HAVE to use the jargon, say gene-edited GMOs or try using quotation marks to make it clear that you do not accept the term at face value.

Avoid:

  • Talking about gene editing as something different from GM and don’t use the abbreviation GE as this backs up the idea that gene editing is something separate.
  • New Breeding Techniques or similar phrases – breeding works with nature while GM tries to powerpower it

 

2) Name the problem

GM developers describe different types of GMO in positive terms, but they cause harm in the real world. We can change the way they are perceived by naming them in ways that describe the problems they create.

Say:

Weedkiller-linked crop

Pesticide-friendly soya (or maize, etc)

GMOs that kill insects

Abuse-tolerant GM animals

Avoid:

  • Wording that hides or softens the true impact of the GMO in question, such as Bt  or herbicide tolerant crops
  • Phrases that back up the claims made by GM developers, such as “disease resistant gene edited animals” or “high iron wheat”.

3) Emphasise the need for protection

We are defending robust regulation, but those who put corporate interests before public protections have persuaded many people that regulation is a troublesome burden. We will have more impact if we talk about what regulation does for us and what might happen without it.

To talk about regulation, say:

Safety net

Common sense protections

Sensible safeguards

To talk about deregulation, say:

Free for all

High-tech takeover

Dismantling the safety net of public protections

Race to the bottom

Putting the public and nature at risk for profit

Avoid:

  • “Red tape” even when disputing this term (eg “don’t say this isn’t just red tape”)
  • Regulation, unless you are talking about specific regulations in a technical context – focus instead on the words that highlight what good regulation achieves.

4) Tell our story, not theirs

Avoid using the words, images and metaphors favoured by those promoting GM. These often suggest that genetic manipulation is like molecular microsurgery when it is actually haphazard and unpredictable.

Say:

Genetic mutilation, damage or injury

Gambling with our food or with nature

Use images that show DNA being damaged and technology upsetting the natural balance

Avoid:

  • Genetic edts, scissors or cuts
  • Snipping or cutting DNA
  • Images that show scissors or scalpels
  • Images that imply precision, perfection or micro-surgery

5) Broaden the debate

Resist attempts to focus the GM debate on narrow scientific issues. GM is a technology that needs to be assessed on social, ethical and economic as well as scientific grounds. Campaigners often feel defensive when they are accused of being “anti-science” but responding with arguments about the fine details of the science just narrows the debate and makes it difficult for non-specialists to follow.

Issues to raise:

The way that GM patents lead to greater corporate control of the food chain

Challenge the starting point for different GM proposals (eg we already produce more than enough food for the predicted peak world population – if we want to stop people going hungry we need to address poverty and food waste)

Successful approaches that work with nature, rather than trying to overpower it

Avoid:

  • Engaging in any debate that is framed as “science vs campaigners”
  • Responding to every incorrect claim or statement made in favour of GM in food and farming. Most people can’t follow the fine technical details but they will care about the bigger picture.

 

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Credits and collaboration – please read at least once

These webpages, the printer-friendly versions and the images you can download were all created as part of GM Freeze’s We’ve Been Framed project. The project was generously funded by the Network for Social Change, developed with input from the Public Interest Research Centre and delivered in collaboration with Framing Matters.

The We’ve Been Framed project benefited from the input of committed, enthusiastic and very creative individuals from a range of organisations including Beyond GM, EcoNexus, Food Matters, , Garden Organic, GM Watch, Organic Farmers & Growers and Soil Association.

This messaging guide is – and will always remain – a work in progress. We will update our recommendations as the external context develops and in response to feedback and our own experience. If you would like to make a comment or suggestion, please do so by emailing info[at]gmfreeze.org

We’ve Been Framed GM messaging guide © 2022 by GM Freeze, developed with Framing Matters is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International The animal icons on some of these pages are used by GM Freeze, under license from Flaticon. They are not ours to share so please do not copy or re-use them.