Letters to the editor – May 27, 2021

Misinformation undermines science

While COVID-19 continues to severely impact our lives, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Mass vaccination is the most successful strategy for long-term control of the pandemic.

However, achieving high uptake of vaccines will be a challenge and is being impeded by the widespread distribution of misinformation, information that is intentionally designed to undermine public confidence in vaccines.

Numerous polls indicate there is a significant portion of the population that is accepting the anti-science rhetoric and are vaccine hesitant. As a result, there is a significant risk of prolonging the pandemic, subsequently rendering herd immunity unattainable and further damaging human health and the global economy.

For those of us in the food sector, this wilful spread of misinformation is nothing new because we have been impacted by it for years. Activist organizations are very adept at presenting material that is intentionally incorrect, leading to distrust in how food is produced. Animal activists, for example, will often use emotion-evoking photos that are either staged or taken from developing countries but presented as common practice in Canada.

What is missing from many conversations on food is that farmers and food processors in Canada establish production methods based on verified scientific data, are on a path of continuous improvement and share the same concerns the public have for the environment, climate change and animal welfare.

The widespread distribution of misinformation undermines the role of science, research and evidence-based decision making. The same anti-science messaging that is endangering our ability to manage COVID-19 has the potential to threaten global food security and affordability.

Social media plays an important role in shaping the opinions of Canadians. We live in an information age, and anyone with a cellphone, computer or electronic device has constant access to a vast network of information — much of it conflicting. In addition, social media feeds are tailored to individual users based on previous interactions and lessen the chances of an individual encountering differing viewpoints.

It remains a challenge for transparent, science-based communications to compete with the sensationalism of the negative. As the world evolves, the knowledge that is generated via science and technology is not something to be feared, but rather embraced.

When we are making decisions that impact our individual or collective well-being, we need to be critical of the information we are presented with. At a minimum, we should be asking the basic question: what qualifications does this person or organization have to deliver this information? Bad sources, like bad seeds, can bear bitter fruit to those who use them.

And our challenge in the food system is to ensure that those who are seeking objective and scientifically sound information can readily do so.

John Jamieson,

Canadian Centre for Food Integrity president,

Guelph, Ont.

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