Biotech Updates

Terminology Matters in Biosafety Communication

August 23, 2017

Scientists working on transgenic vegetatively propagated crops in Africa have acknowledged the need to simplify terminologies for public communication. Speaking at a joint technical-communication meeting on August 18, 2017, in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Margaret Karembu, ISAAA AfriCenter Director, lauded the technical, regulatory and communication team members from the cassava, banana,and potato projects for coming together to define how best to communicate with non-technical stakeholders. "For the public to accept and appreciate efforts going into improving these important food crops, we must shift from using terms that might increase fear and anxiety and begin using those that build trust and confidence," she said. 

Experts were cautioned against using terminologies that could easily be misinterpreted. "We've repeatedly seen the media using images of crops being injected with a syringe even on well balanced stories. Proliferation of these negative images could be from some of the messages sent out by experts" added Dr. Karembu. She argued that while attempting to simplify gene silencing and the induction of resistance to plant viruses, terms such as vaccination create visuals that are eventually processed by lay audiences to mean something scary, "after all, who wants to eat a vaccinated cassava?" she asked.

"Terms such as LMOs scare policy makers and leave the impression that these foods are made of unnatural living organisms which they want to protect their constituents from!" said Mr. Joshua Oluyali, Head of Roots and Tuber Crops at the Ministry of Agriculture. Mr. Oluyali advised experts to use genetically improved cassava variety instead of GMO cassava when addressing farmers, policy makers and the media.  

A number of terms were identified and simplified, and a joint knowledge product, expected to be translated into various African languages, will be generated by the teams. Key members of other GM projects across the continent will also be engaged to give their inputs on the knowledge product that will be beneficial to all GM projects in the region.

The meeting was facilitated by ISAAA AfriCenter and the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) Plus project. It was attended by members from the Bacterial Wilt Resistant Banana Project and the Late Blight Resistant Potato Project.

For more information, contact Dr. Margaret Karembu at