Platter of cheese and crackers

For the second Food Values Research Group Seminar of 2017, we are pleased to present two talks from the leaders of our research group:

Designer babies, human-pig chimeras, and mosquitos: How gene editing is being made public in Australia

Dr Heather Bray, Senior Research Fellow, School of Humanities, University of Adelaide

Dr Heather Bray profile pictureGene editing is a term used to describe the use of a suite of recently-developed tools used by molecular biologists to precisely alter genomes. The most well-known of these tools is the CRISPR-Cas9 system. Gene editing has already been used to modify human embryos (Liang et al 2015), as gene therapy in humans and numerous other in vitro studies aimed primarily at the prevention of human diseases. However, there is some ambiguity in the regulation of gene editing in most countries, and in particular whether current restrictions that relate to genetic modification should also be applied to gene editing. In this presentation I will discuss how gene editing is being ‘made public’ in the Australian media, and in particular address whether gene editing is presented as a step along a continuum of innovations in molecular biology, or a major disruptive technology. Implications for public engagement will also be addressed.


Dr Heather Bray is a researcher exploring community understandings of, and attitudes to, the role of science and technology in food production, in particular genetically-modified crops and food, and farm animal welfare. She has recently returned to full-time research after working for over 10 years in science communication, developing community engagement programs for agricultural research centres that use complex and controversial technologies. Her background is in agricultural science and she has worked as an animal scientist in both Australia and the Netherlands.

Othering via Food Choice: Anti-Halal Sentiment in Contemporary Australia

Professor Rachel Ankeny, School of Humanities, University of Adelaide

Professor Rachel Ankeny profile pictureAustralia is among the most multicultural nations in the world, with nearly 27% of its population born abroad and growing numbers of migrants from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It prides itself on embracing of the diverse communities of which it is composed, and celebrates migrants’ contributions its foodways. However considerable controversy has recently arisen about halal foods, particularly meat products, in relation to concerns about animal welfare, partially in response to increased labeling and visibility of these products. This paper presents qualitative research findings from a project on ethical consumption to disentangle the issues underlying halal avoidance, highlighting several key themes. First, although participants mentioned concerns about ritual slaughter as a main motivator, they typically are not aware of the actual methods used for killing food animals under halal certification requirements or otherwise. Second, they emphasized fears about how their purchases may be contributing to what they view as unethical practices, and object to their inabilities to ‘opt out’ of purchasing halal. We contend that avoidance of halal products is based much less on knowledge or on consistency with other choices about animal welfare or ethical products but on sociocultural pressures which are causing non-Muslims to ‘other’ Muslims through criticism of this food choice, and represent a form of ‘culinary xenophobia.’ Thus we use the anti-halal movement as a way to analyze food choices and animal-human relations, and the complexities of human relationships that can be exposed via food in our increasingly globalized society.

Professor Rachel A. Ankeny is an interdisciplinary teacher and scholar whose areas of expertise cross three fields: history/philosophy of science, bioethics and science policy, and food studies. She is an Honorary Visiting Professor in the College of Social Science and International Studies (Philosophy) at the University of Exeter (UK) and an adjunct faculty member in the Center for Biology and Society, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, at Arizona State University (US). Her research is considered highly interdisciplinary, scholarly, and generally accessible, evidenced by the fact that her talks are typically attended not only by academics but also members of the general public. She also is well-recognized as a scholar who can translate academic findings in ways that are relevant for students and the broader community.

When: Wednesday, 19th of April, 1-2:30 PM

Where: Lower Napier Building, Room LG23, North Terrace Campus, University of Adelaide (click here for campus map)

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For the first Food Values Research Group Seminar of 2017, we are pleased to present:

Selective Eating and (Dis)Trust in Food

Professor Claude Fischler, Senior Investigator, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Claude FischlerClaude Fischler is a French social scientist (sociology, anthropology) senior investigator with CNRS, the French National Science Center and a former director of the Interdisciplinary Institute for Contemporary Anthropology. He was one of the social scientists who began exploring food and eating, a relatively new topic for the social sciences, in the 1970s. He developed cross-disciplinary approaches to food cultures and their evolution, to eating behaviour, to medical and lay perceptions of the relation of food and health and to the perception of risk. After his 1990 book L’Homnivore, a synthesis of the social sciences’ perspective on food and nutrition (still in print in french), Fischler developed cross-cultural comparative studies on collective views of food and health in European and Western countries, showing considerable differences between nations and cultures with comparable levels of development, and suggesting they might help understand significant and often overlooked differences in prevalences of non-communicable diseases and obesity. Fischler also touched upon the field of wellbeing and happiness, again in a cross-national comparative perspective. His current focus is on sustainable food systems, and on the anthropology of commensality (eating together). In 2015, he edited Selective Eating: The Rise, Meaning and Sense of “Personal Dietary Requirements”.

When: Wednesday, 1st of March, 1-2 PM

Where: Lower Napier Building, Room LG23, North Terrace Campus, University of Adelaide (click here for campus map)

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This article originally appeared in The Conversation and describes work featured in a paper entitled “Not just about “the science”: science education and attitudes to genetically modified foods among women in Australia” that was recently published online by New Genetics and Society We also prepared a short You Tube video summary.

Perceptions of genetically modified food are informed by more than just science

Heather Bray, University of Adelaide and Rachel A. Ankeny, University of Adelaide

When people don’t seem to use science to make decisions, it is tempting to assume that it’s because they don’t understand the underlying science. In response, scientists and science communicators often just try harder to explain the science in the hope that eventually the facts will persuade people to change their behaviours or beliefs. This is known as “the deficit model” of science communication.

While there have been many attempts in science communication to move away from the deficit model, it continues to persist, partly because we still don’t really understand the different ways in which people interact with science in their everyday lives.

Even the idea that there is a single body of knowledge known as “science” is problematic: various sciences have different ways of weighing up evidence or looking at things such as risk.

Another issue is that people have multiple roles that affect the ways they make decisions: citizen, consumer, scientist, and carer, to name a few. And finally, the role of science in our “post-truth” world is more contentious than ever.

Perceptions of harm versus safety

Our recent qualitative research on women’s attitudes to genetically modified (GM) food attempts to unpack a few of these issues. We wondered how women involved in the production of GM crops made their food choices, whether they used “science” when they chose food for themselves and their families, and whether their decision-making was different from that of women with less science education.

We looked specifically at women because previous research had shown them to be generally more negative about GM foods because they tend to have less education in science, and because they often have caring roles that tend to make them more concerned with food risks. Women are also more involved, generally speaking, with food provisioning.

Among our participants was a group of women with health science backgrounds, as well as plant scientists and women with lower levels of science education.

It was interesting that for all of the women in our study, they preferred food that was “natural” (as in unprocessed), locally produced, healthy and nutritious, and free from additives.

Many people value ‘natural’ foods, although what qualifies as ‘natural’ varies from person to person.
Ruth Hartnup/Flickr, CC BY

A key difference between them was that the plant scientists did not see food made using GM techniques to be in conflict with any of these categories, and were not worried about eating GM food.

But almost all of the other women in the study – even the highly science-literate women who worked in health science – saw GM food as being in conflict with these core food values.

All of the women with science backgrounds used evidence to support their stance. The plant scientists said that lack of evidence of harm meant that GM food was safe for them to eat. However, the women in health sciences said that a lack of evidence of safety made them cautious.

Note that these are two very different perceptions of risk, which we think may be a result of the women’s different disciplinary backgrounds. For women without science backgrounds, GM food presented unknown risks, and as such was to be avoided.

It is important to remember that all of the women in our study had multiple roles that also influenced their food choices. Most were carers of others who were factored into their food choices: children, elderly parents, and partners. Price, familiarity of brands, and allergies and other dietary needs were all important.

Canola is one of the crops that can involve genetic modification.
Paul/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Multiple dimensions

As researchers keen to foster engagement around the role of science and technology in food production, we feel that this research holds several lessons for science communication.

First, it is important to remember that everyday decisions that involve science don’t occur in a vacuum, and that the multiple roles each of us plays also influence our choices.

Second, there is not one singular body of knowledge called “science” with which people engage. Helping people to navigate different disciplinary approaches to risk is particularly important.

Third, one of the consequences of the deficit model has been to limit conversations about GM foods to how they are made, and how risk is assessed by regulators, rather than discussion of broader issues.

This simplistic framing was particularly frustrating for the women in our study with science backgrounds. They wanted a much more sophisticated conversation about GM food than is currently happening in the public domain.

But most importantly, our work points to shared food values between those who eat, and those who do not eat, GM foods. Shared values are an important foundation for engagement, and we believe that our work can contribute to the development of better engagement strategies across different sciences and sectors of the public.

The Conversation

Heather Bray, Senior Research Associate, University of Adelaide and Rachel A. Ankeny, Professor of History, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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For the November Food Values Research Group Seminar, we are pleased to present: Agricultural Trade, Policy Reforms, and Global Food Security Professor Kym Anderson, University of Adelaide and Australian National University If global food production is to keep up with the growth in food demand, the productivity of resources employed in agriculture needs to increase. That […]

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Ahead of a new documentary series on SBS about meat, Rachel and I were invited to write a piece for The Conversation, which is reproduced here (without the embedded videos).   It’s complicated: Australia’s relationship with eating meat Heather Bray, University of Adelaide and Rachel A. Ankeny, University of Adelaide Australia has a long-standing history […]

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For the October Food Values Research Group Seminar, we are pleased to present: What if Ennis and Jack had fished? Brokeback Mountain revisited for commensality, companionship and conviviality. Professor John Coveney, Flinders University The book and movie, Brokeback Mountain, provides readers and viewers with the development of a love story between two men, Ennis del […]

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The increasing prominence of food politics and visibility of formerly ‘marginal’ food practices provided a focal point for the diversity of issues, from ethical consumption and alternative food networks to food culture in the digital age, addressed by speakers at the ‘Food Politics: From the Margins to the Mainstream’ conference in Hobart on 30 June […]

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For the September Food Values Research Group Seminar, we are pleased to present: Creative City Madness: Food Trucks and Cultures of Entrepreneurialism Dr. Jean Duruz, University of South Australia This presentation reflects on the recent introduction of “boutique” food trucks to Adelaide’s streets as a state-sponsored strategy for creating “a more vibrant public realm”. To […]

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On Tuesday the 30th of August, the ABC’s science program Catalyst ran a piece on gene editing, with a particular focus on one of the newest tools CRISPR-Cas9. Gene editing tools such as CRISPR-Cas9, often just referred to as CRISPR, allow scientists to cut the DNA within an organism’s genome in a specific place, using […]

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Speaking to delegates from industry, researchers, and investors at the Ag & Foodtech Symposium in Brisbane, Professor Rachel Ankeny explained that the future of genetic modification must include dialogue and debate with the public. Drawing upon the Food Values Research Group’s extensive research, Rachel explained that people’s concerns about GM are not just (or mainly) about […]

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