Published on: April 28, 2015by Michael Sansolo
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not a scientist ... despite a brief and mediocre attempt to major in chemistry in college.
Here’s why I say that: it seems that the phase “I’m not a scientist” is the single most important starting point for tons of really important discussions.
And that’s terrible.
Let’s quickly review a couple of recent stories here in MNB. On Friday Kevin shared the clip from "The Daily Show" that took a completely unexpected turn on GMOs and the selective use of information to form positions.
Yesterday we had two stories: one on Chipotle’s commitment to GMO-free products and another on Diet Pepsi dropping Aspartame as its sweetener.
So let me repeat again: I’m not a scientist and in likelihood, you aren’t either. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the food industry is square in the middle of many scientific debates. At some point we’re going to have to figure out a way to engage and possibly, horror of horrors, actually talk about science.
Let’s share a couple of other items here.
This Sunday, the New York Times ran an opinion piece titled: “How I got converted to GMO food,” written by a one-time anti-GMO activist who changed positions after seeing the environmental and societal benefits of GMO products in poorer parts of the world.
Here’s the issue: the arguments author Mark Lynas offered in the Times probably won’t change a single mind on the issue. As he pointed out, some recent Pew Research found a larger gap between scientists and the public on GMOs than any other issue.
For context: there is an 18-percentage point gap in scientists supporting vaccinations and the public perspective and a 37-point gap on climate change. On GMOs the gap is 51 points.
So we’re not scientists and we don’t believe scientists either.
The same discussion could extend to Pepsi’s decision.
Full disclosure: I do work with the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Councils, but not on soft drink or competitive issues.
The Washington Post reported Monday that there is no scientific evidence to support claims of problems with aspartame. That’s the finding of the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the European Food Safety Authority.
Even Pepsi, the Post noted, said there was no scientific reason for its change of sweetener, but clearly Pepsi is hoping the change will tamp down controversy and boost sales.
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel has lampooned the lack of general science knowledge with recent segments showing consumers who are passionately against GMOs or gluten - without really knowing what the letters GMO stand for or what gluten actually is.
(You can watch the Jimmy Kimmel GMO video here, and the gluten video here.)
So here’s the thing: my column won’t change a single mind. Today we’re armed with information that both convince and support each of our specific opinions on GMOs or any other issue. And every day these issues push deeper into the public square. For that reason the industry can’t simply give up.
Somehow, someway we need to engage this discussion to help spread some understanding, some education and maybe some willingness to open minds.
Even if it involves science.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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