Most Britons 'oppose GM crops'/Read the report (24/9/2003)

"The Government's own Strategy Unit has said that there is no immediate economic case for GM crops. Their own scientific advisors have said there are still scientific uncertainties and unknowns. The supermarkets have told them there is no market for GM food. Now the British public have said they don't want GM crops. The message to the Government could not be clearer."

"The multinational chemical companies may not like that conclusion, but even they should not be allowed to take away the right of people to choose what food they eat" (item 5)

1.How to read the report - where to download the docs
2.Most Britons 'oppose GM crops' - BBC
3.GM Nation? No thank you! - FoE
 4.GM Nation?. maybe. A public debate?. unfortunately not - CropGen
5.GM Nation? report welcomed by organic farmers - Soil Association
6.GM Nation? The findings of the public debate - extract giving analysis
of the feedback forms
1.How to read the report
The findings of the public debate
Read the Executive summary
Download a PDF of the full report (266KB)
View supporting documents
2.Most Britons 'oppose GM crops'
Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK

More than half of Britons who took part in a nationwide debate on genetically modified crops said they should never be introduced under any circumstances.

An official report on the results of 600 meetings held in June and July around the country reflects widespread doubts about the benefits of GM technology.

The GM Nation? report says the public mood on GM "ranged from caution and doubt, through suspicion and scepticism, to hostility and rejection". Only 2% said they would be happy to eat GM foods.

The government has promised to consider the 40,000 public responses before deciding whether to go ahead with commercial GM crops.

The chairman of the GM Debate Steering Board, Professor Malcolm Grant, told the BBC the overwhelming response to GM was one of "concern and scepticism".

'Profound mistrust'

He said it would be risky to forge ahead with giving the green light to modified foods in the face of "profound mistrust".

The report also suggests that those people who came to the debate with little prior knowledge tended to become more sceptical about GM technology as they learned about it.

But unlike hardened opponents of GM, they tended to be "more willing to accept some potential benefits from GM" over the long term.

Pete Riley from Friends of the Earth - which spearheaded campaigns against the introduction of GM - said the results had not surprised him.  "This is exactly the same message the public's been giving out over the last six years," he told the BBC.

"They are very suspicious of GM crops and food, they're suspicious of the companies behind it, and they're suspicious of the government motives.

"It's about time the government started listening to the public."

But biotechnology companies argued the government debate was flawed and that its results were unreliable.

"Public meetings do not equal public opinion," said Paul Rylott, of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), which represents biotech firms like Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.

"Unfortunately this exercise doesn't tell us anything new," he said.

"When the public is asked in a statistically valid way, they can see why GM crops are so widely grown in other countries".

Tough choices

Regional events from Inverness and the Scottish Islands to Cornwall and the Isle of Wight ran from 3 June to 18 July and were made up of three elements.

They were a science review, an economic assessment and the debate itself.

The report is likely to create a dilemma for the government and make awkward reading for biotechnology companies seeking to sell their GM seeds to British farmers.

Friends of the Earth says a number of key ministers are known to favour GM commercialisation.

A decision on whether or not to give commercial GM crops the go-ahead is due later this year.

The results of a three-year farm scale evaluation of GM crops are due next month.
3.GM Nation? No thank you!
Government-sponsored debate rejects GM food and crops
Immediate release: Wednesday 24 September 2003

The public doesn't want GM food and doesn't want the Government to allow GM crops to be commercially grown in the UK. This is the overwhelming conclusion from today's report on the Government-sponsored national GM debate, GM Nation? Friends of the Earth today challenged the Government to listen to the findings and rule out GM commercialization in the UK.

The report's seven 'key messages' are brief and to the point:

"1. People are generally uneasy about GM;
2. The more people engage in GM issues, the harder their attitudes and more intense their concerns;
3. There is little support for early commercialisation;
4. There is widespread mistrust of government and multi-national companies;
5. There is broad desire to know more and for more research to be done;
6. Developing countries have special interests;
7. The debate was welcomed and valued."

GM Nation encouraged people to fill in a questionnaire, and 36,557 forms were returned. More than half (54 per cent) said they never want to see GM crops grown in the UK. A further 18 per cent would find GM crops acceptable only if there was no risk of cross-contamination, and 13 per cent wanted more research before any decision was made. A mere two per cent said that GM crops were acceptable "in any circumstances" and only eight per cent were happy to eat GM food (86 per cent were not).

The debate organisers also conducted a series of separate interviews with groups of people, representative of the general population - who didn't take part in GM Nation? - to see if there was a "silent majority" with different views.. The results of this "Narrow But Deep" research "suggested that when people in the general population become more engaged in GM issues, and choose to discover more about them, they harden their attitudes to GM". This included "more concern/ greater unease about all the risks most frequently associated with GM. In particular, the more they choose to discover about GM, the more convinced they are that no one knows enough about the long-term effects of GM on human health."

Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Pete Riley said: "The Government will ignore this report at its peril. The public has made it clear that it doesn't want GM food and it doesn't want GM crops. There must not be any more weasel words from the Government on this issue. It must stand up to US and corporate lobbying, honour the findings of its own consultation, and rule out the commercialisation of GM crops."

Pete Riley 07712 843 210 (m)  Clare Oxborrow 07712 843 211 (m)
4."GM Nation?. maybe. A public debate? unfortunately not", says CropGen
[biotech industry funded lobby group]

London, 24th September 2003 - Like many scientists and farmers across the country, CropGen welcomed the Government's decision to initiate a public debate about GM technology and the commercial growing of GM crops in this country. The results, however, published today in the GM Nation? The Public Debate report, are rather disappointing, explained Professor Vivian Moses, Chairman of the CropGen panel of scientists:

"We had hoped that the debates might be an effective way of involving the wider public both in the science and in the other issues surrounding the new technology", he said. "Like other scientists, we saw them as part of our civic responsibility and as opportunities for people to participate, express their own views, hear those of others and so help them to a deeper understanding of the reasons behind decisions to come and the implications which will follow from them".

"Most would agree that this is a complex area and that it takes time and study to get to grips with the facts surrounding the many issues involved. Sadly, we found that the level of debate was confined to the information in the briefing material. For the most part it simply rehearsed the soundbites with which we are all now familiar; in-depth discussion of the evidence was missing."

"Together with other CropGen panellists, I attended a good number of these so-called public debates across the country, only to find that the level of attendance was, at its best, about 1% of the town's population, and that in many cases, the meetings were organised and chaired by obviously one-sided anti-GM organisations. So much for a fair debate!"

CropGen concludes that the GM Nation? meetings and the questionnaires that were submitted for the report can in no way be regarded as expressing a representative view of the nation's opinions.

"In announcing the GM Nation? debates, the Government said they would not be used as a referendum. The outcome of the debate experience shows how right they were to do so."
5.Press Release "GM Nation?" report welcomed by organic farmers

The Soil Association today warmly welcomed the conclusions of the GM public debate. The GM debate showed that people are "generally uneasy about GM", but the more they look into GM issues "the harder their attitudes become and the more intense their concerns".

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said "The fact that the multinational chemical companies are trying to throw doubt on the findings of this massive investigation of opinion on GM shows a total contempt for the British public. The Soil Association were invited to take part in nearly 50 local meetings, and on every occasion we found that people were absolutely determined to be fair and to listen to every point of view before coming to a conclusion. The multinational chemical companies may not like that conclusion, but even they should not be allowed to take away the right of people to choose what food they eat".

The detailed report on the findings of the public debate says that one of the key facts that concern people about GM crops is that they "would destroy freedom of choice for consumers and farmers and would deprive people forever of the chance to choose an organic future for British agriculture".

The report also says that when people were asked to express their own opinions on feedback forms, many people "expressed their preference for organic or sustainable farming methods, and their concerns about cross-contamination and the need to protect consumer choice".

Peter Melchett added "The Government's own Strategy Unit has said that there is no immediate economic case for GM crops. Their own scientific advisors have said there are still scientific uncertainties and unknowns. The supermarkets have told them there is no market for GM food. Now the British public have said they don't want GM crops. The message to the Government could not be clearer."
For media enquiries contact Simon Toseland, press office, 0117 987 4580,
or [email protected]

Press Office  T: 0117 914 2448  ISDN: 0117 922 1680
Soil Association Campaigning for organic food and farming and sustainable forestry
Bristol House, 40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6BY T: 0117 929 0661 F: 0117 925 2504
6.GM Nation? The findings of the public debate
Forms returned

104. During the six weeks of the GM Nation? debate, about 70,000 feedback forms were sent out in response to requests from members of the public and interested organisations. In total 36,557 feedback forms were completed. The results are analysed below.

105. The feedback forms invited people to complete the questions inspired by the Foundation Discussion Workshops. Thirteen were "closed" (listed in Appendix C) and invited respondents to choose between Agree Strongly; Agree; Disagree; Disagree Strongly; Don't Know/Unsure.  Two were open-ended and invited respondents to answer in their own words. The first asked under what circumstances they would find it acceptable for GM crops to be grown in the United Kingdom. The second invited them to express any additional views. The feedback form also asked them to show their gender; their age group and whether they had children or grandchildren; the region where they lived; and the debate activities (if any) in which they had taken part. It also identified how each respondent had received it (at a meeting or by other means). The entire feedback form is reproduced as Appendix E.

106. In the following section, analysis of the "closed" questions is based on the total sample of 36,557.  The analysis of the open-ended questions is based on a random sample of 2,045 submissions, demographically matched to the total sample.

107. To check the possibility of an organised response to the feedback form we used a random sample of 200 open-ended responses to Question 15 (any additional views) to develop a code frame. Within that sample of 200 a total of three respondents reproduced an identical list of ten questions for government. We found no other evidence of any organised response.

Feedback respondents:  involvement in the debate

108. Of the 36,557 responses 18,771 (51 per cent) were submitted in hard copy and 17,786 (49 per cent) on the website. An online response is more likely than a paper one to have been a solitary activity: paper responses resulted from going to meetings, or receiving a form from an organisation or individual who had requested it, so that they involved some interaction with others.

109. We wondered whether we could detect any difference in the feedback responses which was related to the way in which they received the form or their degree of involvement in the debate.  The forms showed that 51 per cent of respondents had visited the website, and 28 per cent had read the booklet. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) had attended a meeting, but only 7 per cent had seen the video and only 3 per cent viewed the CD-Rom. Nearly a quarter of respondents - 22 per cent - had done none of these things.  In other words, they had received the form from another person. These were potentially a different set of respondents - selected by others rather than themselves. Would they show a different pattern of response to the rest?

110. In the event, our analysis showed no significant difference in views between them and other groups of respondents. It suggested that the means by which people took part in the debate made very little difference to the views they expressed in the debate. For example, people who went to Tier 1 meetings produced very similar feedback responses to people who went to those in Tiers 2 or 3 or to none at all. People who read the booklet produced the same kind of response as people who had not. However, as we note in paragraph 131 below, people who went to a meeting for the first time were more likely to have changed their minds about GM before arriving at their final views. So were the relatively small number who had watched the video. They were less likely to be hostile or suspicious towards GM crops than all the rest. (But this may be due to their composition: videowatchers included fewer women and people in the middle age group - those least favourable towards GM. Moreover, video watchers were generally highly involved in other elements of the debate as well. All in all, we do not think that there was a special "video effect" on attitudes towards GM.)

111. However, in our cluster analysis, discussed below, we found one set of attitudes which we identify as "no fixed position on GM", which we compare to two others - "implacably" and "somewhat" opposed to GM. People in the "no fixed position" cluster showed the lowest general involvement in the debate.

112. It is worth noting that simply completing the feedback form made respondents consider many different aspects of GM crops, potential benefits as well as potential risks, however briefly they lingered on a question or even if they chose not to answer it. Compared to letters and e-mails, feedback forms were not a "raw" response to GM crops. People who completed them had to debate the issues, at least with themselves.
113. The form also asked respondents whether they had attended other meetings to discuss GM issues before the public debate. Over two thirds - 69 per cent - said they had not; 28 per cent said that they had; and 3 per cent were not sure or did not answer. There are two ways to look at these figures. The 69 per cent suggests that the debate made many people actively engage in GM issues for the first time. The 28 per cent figure suggests that many people in the debate were already interested and committed. Previous engagement did not seem to affect attitudes: there were no statistically significant differences between the responses of the 69 per cent and the 28 per cent.

 Feedback respondents: gender, age, residence

114. More than half the respondents, 54 per cent, were women (compared to 51 per cent in the UK population) and 44 per cent were men (compared to 49 per cent). The remaining 2 per cent did not identify their gender.

115. The age range of respondents is shown below, next to UK population figures (1 per cent did not identify their ages).
Age range  GM Nation Population
16-19        2%              6%
20-24        4%              6%
25-34      18%            14%
35-44       21%           15%
45-54       21%           13%
55-64       18%           11%
65+          13%            16%
As can be seen, our sample under-represents the age groups under 35 and over-represents those over 35. Our analysis below uses three broad age groups: under 35; 35-54; 55 and over.
116. Nearly one in five - 19 per cent - had children under 18 and over a quarter - 27 per cent - had grandchildren under 18. However, most respondents - 54 per cent - had no children or grandchildren. The remaining 2 per cent did not answer the question.

117. Respondents in England were 86 per cent of the total (compared to 84 per cent of the UK population). Scotland was slightly underrepresented (6 per cent of respondents compared to 9 per cent of the UK population). Wales had 4 per cent of respondents (compared to 5 per cent). Northern Ireland had only 130 of the 36,577 total respondents - less than 0.5 per cent compared to 3 per cent.

118. Of English regions, the South East had 26 per cent of respondents, exactly matching its share of the UK population. The South West was significantly over-represented, with 22 per cent compared to an 8 per cent share of the UK population. The West Midlands had 13 per cent of respondents compared to 9 per cent. Underrepresented regions were East Anglia (7 per cent compared to 9 per cent); East Midlands (5 per cent against 7 per cent); the North (1 per cent against 4 per cent); the North West (6 per cent against 12 per cent) and Yorkshire and Humberside (5 per cent against 8 per cent).
Feedback responses: general summary

119. The feedback responses show a general pattern of caution, suspicion or outright hostility towards GM and GM crops or foods. People were more willing to accept that there were potential risks of GM, or make a negative response to it, than to accept that there were any potential benefits, and they were far more certain in their "negative" responses than in their "positive" ones. Although some groups of people were less suspicious or hostile than others, every single group was broadly negative in its feelings about every GM issue.

120. Responses to the open-ended Question 14 indicated that over half - 54 per cent - never want to see GM crops grown in the United Kingdom. Nearly a fifth - 18 per cent - would find GM crops acceptable only if there was no risk of cross-contamination and 13 per cent wanted more research before any decision was taken.  Just under half the responses - 49 per cent - wanted some condition to be satisfied before GM crops were grown, some listing more than one.  Only 2 per cent thought GM crops would be acceptable "in any circumstances."

121. There were emphatic majorities in support of the questions which referred to risks from GM or made some negative comment about it. As many as 95 per cent agreed about the risk of contamination of non-GM crops compared to 5 per cent who disagreed. There were comparable majorities on other questions as follows:
[1] not enough known about long-term health effects of GM foods 93 to 5
[1] GM technology driven more by profit than public interest 93 to 6
[1] Potential negative effects of GM crops on environment 91 to 7
[1] GM crops would mainly benefit producers not ordinary people 85 to 8
[1] Unacceptable interference with nature 84 to 10.

122. Only 8 per cent of feedback respondents declared themselves happy with the idea of eating GM food, compared to 86 per cent who were not. Only 7 per cent were confident that the development of GM crops was being carefully regulated, compared to 87 per cent who were not.

123. Feedback respondents generally rejected the potential benefits of GM crops, although these questions produced a higher response of Don't Know/Unsure than the "negative" ones.  Only 9 per cent agreed that GM crops could help British farmers compete with farmers around the world: 79 per cent disagreed and 11 per cent responded Don't Know/Unsure. (In this and subsequent figures any remainder from 100 per cent represents those who did not answer).
On other questions the responses were
[1] could benefit developing countries 13 agree; 75 disagree; 12 DK/Unsure
[1] less pesticides and chemical fertilisers than traditional crops 14 agree 71 disagree 13 DK/Unsure
[1] could help to provide cheaper food for consumers 14 agree; 70 disagree; 15 DK/ Unsure

124. One question alone - number 9 - produced no outright "anti-GM" majority. Nearly a quarter - 23 per cent - agreed that some GM non-food crops could have useful medical benefits, compared to 41 per cent who disagreed. Over a third - 35 per cent - were uncertain.

125. The open-ended Question 15, inviting respondents' additional views, produced a range of concerns about GM: most people listed more than one. The most frequent were concerns about environmental damage, followed closely by suggestions that not enough was known about GM and more research was needed, and concerns that GM development was driven by profit. Respondents also expressed their preference for organic or sustainable farming methods, and their concerns about crosscontamination and the need to protect consumer choice. They also mentioned the prospect of GM companies controlling food production.

126. On Question 22, nearly three quarters of feedback respondents said that their views had remained the same after taking part in the public debate, compared to 15 per cent who had changed their minds a little and 4 per cent who had changed them a lot. The remainder - 7 per cent - did not answer: this was by far the highest proportion of non-answers to any question.
Feedback responses: group variations

127. Two groups of people were more likely to be concerned, suspicious, or hostile about GM than others: women and people aged 35 - 54 of either sex.

128. Two groups were by comparison less likely to be concerned, suspicious or hostile: men and East Anglians. (People in Northern Ireland were also more favourably disposed towards GM but they were significantly under-represented among respondents. However, it is interesting to note that of all the Tier 1 meetings, Belfast was the most balanced in its range of comments between "pro", "anti" and "uncommitted.")
129. For each of the closed questions women and the middle age group were a few percentage points more hostile towards GM than all respondents. The greatest difference for women was on Question 12 (GM interferes with nature in an unacceptable way): 89 per cent of women agreed compared to 84 per cent of all respondents. Women and the middle age group were those most likely to oppose GM crops in the UK under any circumstances: 58 per cent in each case compared to 54 per cent for all respondents.

130. Men were much happier than women about eating GM food: 12 per cent against 5 per cent for women and they were more willing to believe that British farmers could benefit from GM crops: 12 per cent against 6 per cent. Men were generally a few percentage points more favourable or less resistant towards GM on each of the closed questions than all respondents. East Anglians were a slightly more sympathetic group towards GM on all the closed questions. One in seven - 14 per cent - declared themselves happy to eat GM foods compared to 8 per cent of all respondents (however, the 130 Northern Irish respondents were even happier, at 24 per cent).

131. Although only about a fifth of all feedback respondents said that they had changed their minds as the result of the debate, the figure was significantly higher for people who attended a meeting on GM for the first time, who represented over two thirds of all respondents. Among these people, 24 per cent said that they had changed their minds a little and 8 per cent a lot, compared to 15 per cent and 4 per cent for all respondents. (Video watchers showed an identical variation). But the 28 per cent of respondents who had been to a GM meeting before were less likely to change their minds as the result of going to another one: 80 per cent said their views had remained the same after the public debate compared to 74 per cent of all respondents. East Anglians and the few Northern Irish respondents were more likely to have changed their minds than people elsewhere in the UK.

Feedback: attitudinal clusters

132. Analysis of the feedback data identified three statistically robust "attitudinal clusters" towards GM - three broad groups of people whose responses tended to match. We have identified them as follows: Cluster 1 Implacably Opposed to GM
47 per cent of sample
Cluster 2 Somewhat Opposed to GM
32 per cent of sample
Cluster 3 No Fixed Position on GM
12 per cent of sample
133. In Cluster 1 almost nobody agrees that GM crops have any potential benefits or that they are willing to eat them or that they are well regulated. They agree by enormous majorities, in some cases near unanimity, to the questions about the risks of GM foods or containing negative statements about them. Nearly three quarters of them - 72 per cent - are opposed to GM crops under any circumstances, compared to 54 per cent of all respondents.

134. Cluster 2 have broadly the same attitudes as Cluster 1 but tend to be less emphatic. They agree almost as strongly on the "negative" questions as Cluster 1, and are almost as unhappy about eating them and about their regulation. However, they are more willing to accept that there are potential benefits from GM crops, especially medical ones, where 35 per cent agree against 20 per cent who disagree and 45 per cent Don't Know/Unsure. Just under half - 49 per cent - are opposed to GM crops under any circumstances, while 24 per cent would agree to them only if there were no risk of crosscontamination and 16 per cent would like to see more research first.

135. Cluster 3 have a different attitude. Their answers to questions are spread more evenly and they record more Don't Knows/Unsure than the other two. On four questions they share the suspicion or scepticism towards GM of the other clusters: impact on the environment; driven by profit; longterm effects of GM food on health; difficult to keep other crops GM free. However, in spite of their doubts on long-term health, they are far happier about eating GM food (20 per cent agree). They are also far more willing than the other two clusters to agree to potential benefits from GM crops, especially benefits to developing countries (51 per cent agree) and lower pesticide use and medical benefits (53 per cent each). Only 19 per cent were opposed to GM crops under any circumstances. Over a quarter - 27 per cent - wanted to ensure that there was no risk of cross-contamination and 21 per cent wanted more research to be done.
136. The implacable cluster 1 is more female than male: 60 per cent against 40 per cent. Just under half - 47 per cent - are in the middle age group. This cluster also has the highest proportion of people with children, 30 per cent. By comparison, the total sample has 54 per cent women and 44 per cent men, 42 per cent in the middle age group, and 19 per cent have children. Cluster 3, of no fixed position, has more men than women (52 per cent against 47 per cent) and higher proportions of those under 35 or over 54 (33 per cent and 35 per cent against 25 per cent and 31 per cent in the total sample). Cluster 2 is in line with the total sample. There are no significant regional variations in the clusters.
137. Cluster 3 were far less involved in the debate than the other two. Although 22 per cent attended a meeting (in line with the figure for all feedback respondents) only 41 per cent visited the website (compared to 51 per cent for all respondents and cluster 1 and 55 per cent for cluster 2). Only 22 per cent of cluster 3 read the booklet compared to 28 per cent for all respondents (31 per cent of cluster 1 and 27 per cent of cluster 2). Nearly a third - 31 per cent - of cluster 3 had taken no part in any debate activities, apart from filling out the form. This compared to 22 per cent for all respondents.

138. Cluster 1 were those most likely to have attended a previous GM meeting (33 per cent) and cluster 3 those least likely (18 per cent). However, cluster 3 were those most likely to have changed their mind: over a quarter - 26 per cent - thought their views had changed a little. The comparable figure for all respondents was 15 per cent. In cluster 3, a further 4 per cent thought they had changed their minds a lot - the same proportion as for all respondents.
Summary: the more engaged, the more likely to oppose GM

139. The last result seems paradoxical. The group which takes least part in the debate is the group most likely to change its mind about GM, at least a little.

140. However, in our view it confirms a general finding from all the evidence of the open debate. Broadly speaking, it reflects the views of people who are regularly engaged in politics and current affairs. Such people are far more likely to be uncertain, suspicious or hostile towards GM and to have made up their minds about it.

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