What Health and Wellness Dietitians Want to Know About GMOs and Biotechnology

What Health and Wellness Dietitians Want to Know About GMOs and Biotechnology

Recently, BuildUp Dietitians, along with GMO Answers and Arctic Apples, convened a group of registered dietitians at the Sports, Cardiovascular, Wellness and Nutrition (SCAN) practice group symposium in Phoenix, AZ. We wanted to find out what dietitians in the health and wellness space thought about GMOs and biotechnology. We also wanted to be able to answer their questions, and the questions of their clients. We had a great discussion about their concerns and issues, and we learned a great deal listening to them. Hopefully, the attendees learned a lot about the technology as well.

Here’s what the organizers felt were their main takeaways from the event:

Leah McGrath, BuildUp Dietitians:

Prior to the event a short survey was sent out to potential dietitian attendees to get an overview of their knowledge base on biotechnology as well as what concerns and questions might need to be addressed during the dialogue session.

Key Survey Results:

  • Uncertainty with terminology many indicated they were unfamiliar or could not define:  CRISPR, hybrid, genetic engineering and bioengineering.
  • Chief Concerns of Dietitians:  pesticide use, corporate control, and environmental impact.
  • Concerns of their customers/clients:  health and allergy related potential implications of GMOs.
  • Resources: Surprisingly, many dietitians cited the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) as a resource for information, despite the fact that AND has not released an official position on genetic engineering, nor do they have resources easily available to dietitian members.

Being able to evaluate the survey prior to the event was beneficial in planning on how to lead the dialogue session, preparation for potential questions, as well as what materials to bring and resources to suggest.

Leslie Bonci owner, Active Eating Advice by Leslie, RDN, CSSD, former SCAN chair, and member of the Bayer L.E.A.D. network:

For an ice breaker, we asked everyone’s name, where they practice and their specialty areas as well as what they wanted to get out of the session. Most had favorable opinions about biotechnology, some did not know enough to form an opinion pro or con, one was quite opposed citing concerns about human and environmental health. Interestingly, she asked a lot of questions, had some misconceptions clarified and stayed for the entire presentation.

I brought up the example of the orange industry and citrus greening and the impact on Florida. Many were not familiar with this problem and what the potential impact could be. I also brought up the EWG Clean 15/D dirty Doze list as a way to create unnecessary food fear and create more conflict and confusion in helping our clients/athletes/consumers optimize produce intake. There was also mention of foods that contained GMOs being foods that are overly processed such as desserts, snacks being made with GMO crops (soy, corn, sugar beets).  Many of the attendees said that this was not a worry to them as they tend to not recommend those foods anyway. And a lot of talk of the food first, whole foods approach to eating. As a whole the group wanted resources and advice on how to have conversations on Food and Agriculture and felt that their dietetics curriculum and education was lacking in this area.


Michael Stebbins, Director of External Engagement, GMO Answers: What I saw that was many of the questions and concerns that this group of sports, health and wellness dietitians had were the same questions that many people have: questions about basic facts about the technology, questions about safety, questions about modern agriculture and how our food is grown, and how to talk to their clients about this issue.


Our next panelist will go more into finding shared values and telling your story.

Danielle Penick, RD, creator of Survivors’ Table:
Listening First: We suggested starting out with listening to their client or patient and to ask questions to better understand what specific concerns they have, if any. Often fears stem from issues that are outside of the technology, such as discomfort with big companies, monopolies, monoculture, and the environment or it could be directly related to GMO safety and health concerns. Once you understand what the perceived issue is, only then are you better able to address the underlying cause of concern.

How to Better Communicate the Science: During the ice breaker we heard from many attendees who wanted to understand how to better communicate with the people they speak with when asked about biotechnology. Often from their experience when they presented the science to patients or clients first, that it wasn’t always effective. We addressed some best practices that have been successful for us when having these conversations.

Story Telling: Another effective tool discussed was the use of storytelling, since stories captivate us. Often people’s issues are based on feelings and emotions, rather than facts. If we start with facts more often than not, we lose peoples interest. Stories can help us connect with our patients and our clients and can result in a more effective dialogue.

Common Value(s): An additional recommendation was to find a common value with the person you are communicating with. This helps to establish trust. If your patient or client doesn’t trust you, then the information you give them will likely not be well received. For example, if you both care about the environment talk about that as a focus to your conversation. This can help you better direct them to resources as well. Finally, once you establish a rapport, usually only then will people be more receptive to the scientific facts and evidence you present. In closing, we explained that rarely does one conversation change anyone’s mind. You start by planting the seed and opening up dialogue, but typically it will take multiple interactions and discussions to dispel myths or fears.

While only a small number of attendees completed their post-survey, the general responses were positive.  Most all were complimentary of the event, it’s organization, the resources available.  Some respondents wanted more of an “anti-gmo” perspective as well.  Respondents were appreciative of the information about citrus greening, which some were not aware of.

Overall, the main takeaway from this event is that registered dietitian professionals in the health, sports and wellness space are looking for reliable sources of information on the issue of GMOs, and that the questions they have about them, for themselves and their clients, are much like the questions the general public has about GMOs. All of us involved in putting on the event hope we were able to answer some of their questions, clear up some misconceptions about the technology, and provide some helpful tools and trustworthy resources for them to share with their clients.

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