According to a Pew Research Center report, “the way Americans eat has become a source of potential social, economic and political friction as people follow personal preferences reflecting their beliefs about how foods connect with their health and ailments.”
As Michigan State University’s (MSU) connection with Michigan residents, MSU Extension professionals are increasingly engaged in conversations about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But in a survey conducted by our program evaluation specialist Cheryl Eschbach, only 37 percent of Extension survey respondents felt capable of replying to GMO-related questions with science-based information, and only 1 percent felt extremely capable.
Recognizing a need, Ron Bates, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute (AABI) director, brought together a cross-institute committee to develop a training for MSU Extension professionals. The result was a two-day training, “Getting your GMO Questions Answered 101,” offered January 8-9, 2018. MSU faculty and Extension professionals shared presentations on research and technology as well as communicating with clientele about GMOs with over 100 Extension staff members.
“It was a really great workshop,” Extension agriculture and agribusiness educator Jeannine Schweihofer said. “I think it helped me to hear viewpoints from different aspects and concerns that people have about GMOs. Getting the right information out there so people have it is really important.”
“The GMO workshop increased my understanding, and that will help me to confidently answer consumer questions about GMO foods that arise during my food safety programs,” MSU Extension health and nutrition educator Beth Waitrovich said.
Ron Goldy, MSU Extension agriculture and agribusiness educator and event committee chair, felt the event was successful in opening up dialogue and providing tools to talk to MSU Extension clientele, especially during the interactive activities.
This workshop was designed to be the first of many opportunities to provide MSU Extension professionals with resources and to open up dialogues.
“We’re hoping that people from other institutes will take the idea back, and that institute will develop a program with their clientele’s concerns in mind,” Ron said. “There will be further trainings within AABI, and we’re trying to figure that out as well. As soon as we hear back from the event evaluations, we’ll decide on the next steps.”
Additionally, the committee is working on creating an online space to make the documents and presentations from the workshop available to all Extension employees.
I would like to thank the team of people who made the event possible: Ron Bates, Betsy Braid, Erin Carter, Julia Darnton, James DeDecker, Mary Dunckel, Cheryl Eschbach, Theodore Ferris, Elizabeth Ferry, Ron Goldy, Rebecca Grumet, Courtney Hollender, Rebecca Krans, Joyce McGarry, George Silva, Lisa Treiber, Kendra Wills and Garrett Ziegler. I’d also like to thank all of the speakers and presenters throughout the event.