Science must provide answers to consumer fears

It’s been speculated that consumers are losing faith in science, but maybe they are just seeking information that science doesn’t provide.

Maybe we need to use science to ask better questions, which consumers help us define.

To better connect with those who may be viewed as divergent, we need to encourage discussion and let the science follow rather than wedge science between us.

After all, science is a tool created and controlled by humans, and distrust naturally follows if the humans conducting the science are not considering consumer questions or communicating the results as effectively as they could.

A recent article by James Marsden, a food safety professor from Kansas State University, discussed the increasing acceptance of pseudo-science as opposed to the trusted and validated process of real science.

Tempting as it may be to follow that line of logic and blame skepticism of production related science on consumer ignorance, it seems to me that such an approach will further feed the skepticism rather than quell it.

Ultimately, the scientific process is fed by structured doubt, so rather than dismiss doubt as ignorance, why not embrace it as an opportunity to better define the questions?

The lack of trust surrounding production related scientific research is partially fuelled by a discomfort with the intent or implementation of the research. This is not a scientific problem. This is a human problem.

A project designed to test the impact of a product may provide clarity on the effect of using the product but may not answer questions surrounding food safety, environmental impact, welfare or market impact.

Answering these consumer questions only with production driven research fuels skepticism. This does not reflect a lack of understanding of the science but rather an unbalanced approach to implementing and communicating the science.

So, rather than attempting to cram science down the doubters’ throats, those in positions of scientific leadership should embrace that doubt as part of the process.

Canadian producers contribute directly to research funding, and it is important that we ensure that the relevant questions are being asked, evaluated and communicated.

Science is merely a product of human’s quest for answers, so rather than belittle those who question the process, why not embrace such challenges and do our best to implement management practices that balance consumer demands and our ability to provide.

If we don’t work to maintain and build consumer trust, someone else will.

Ross Macdonald, M.Sc., P.Ag., ranches in southern Saskatchewan.

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