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"UK farmers want to grow GM crops" (28/2/2008)

EXTRACT: 'The article as published is the journalistic equivalent of going and asking 30 people selected by a body promoting Sharia law in the UK what they think about Sharia and then, having obtained their Sharia-enthusiastic answers, running a story saying Britain is in favour of introducing Sharia.' - nlpwessex

COMMENT from nlpwessex: Below is an article published in the Sunday Telegraph which claims that, 'Farmers are in favour of growing genetically modified crops in Britain despite public fears over their safety.'

It is based on work carried out by researchers at the Open University, including Dr. Sue Oreszczyn of its Biotechnology Policy Group where most of the projects 'have focused upon the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) designed for agricultural uses.'
http://technology.open.ac.uk/cts/bpg.htm

However, the Telegraph's reporting is just the latest example of how research of questionable value combined with lazy (or even willing)journalism serves to give a distorted picture to the public about the subject of GM crops and the 'need' to adopt them.

GM Free Cymru (Wales) have investigated this particular case and discovered:

1. That this was a publicly funded project to the tune of over 100,000.

2. The sample of farmers concerned was not from across the general farming population but exclusively 30 large-scale commodity farmers (the Telegraph refers to '50 farmers and members of farming organisations') including 16 farmers who had taken part in GM crop trials.

3. The farmers were selected by SCIMAC, the industry body responsible for promoting the introduction of GM crops in the UK (SCIMAC was represented in GM crop trial discussions with DEFRA in 2000 by personnel from biotech companies Monsanto and Aventis - http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/GM/fse/steering/00mar10.htm).

How the sample of farmers was selected is not referred to in the Telegraph's article (the study itself confirms that 'This research required the inclusion of farmers who have had experience with using GM crops; it has therefore used a purposeful sample rather than a statistically representative sample.')

In other words the Telegraph introduces the results of this 'research' as if reflecting the attitude of the whole of the UK farming community when the tiny sample of farmers involved was handpicked by a GM promotion organisation, although two organic farmers were included (one of whom 'did not perceive new technology as particularly important').

The Telegraph's headline is unqualified, and reads 'UK farmers want to grow GM crops'.

You can read more details of what GM Free Cymru unearthed in all of this at:
http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=8796
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/news/Press_Notice22Feb2008.htm

The Telegraph should be truly ashamed of itself.

How its headline should have read is:
'A Tiny Number Of British Farmers Handpicked By SCIMAC Say They Want To Grow GM Crops - Remaining Thousands Weren't Asked'

The article as published is the journalistic equivalent of going and asking 30 people selected by a body promoting Sharia law in the UK what they think about Sharia and then, having obtained their Sharia-enthusiastic answers, running a story saying Britain is in favour of introducing Sharia.

Nonetheless some of the farmers' less enthusiastic responses in the study(not reported by the Telegraph) make interesting reading:

* 'They [biotech] companies always wildly exaggerate yields.'

* 'In many ways they come up with a solution and it takes them a while to decide what it's a solution to.'

* 'There is always a desire to try something new because we get a bit bored.'

* 'I am a member of The Arable Group, who are very good at testing things. And I see a number of products they do test show no benefit, then we know if they are any good despite what the people selling will tell you. Independent, no strings attached research is the most important terms that we need.'

* 'It shows how idiotic Monsanto can be, thinking that people are going to say yes when it lines Monsanto's and farmers' pockets. There is no way the general public are going to buy that one.'

Limits to the enthusiasm were also apparent when the project culminated in a concluding workshop organised by the researchers. Only ten farmers turned up and were out- numbered by non-farmers. Included amongst the non-farmers were representatives from biotech companies (DuPont and Syngenta), SCIMAC, DEFRA and the National Farmers Union of England and Wales (NFU).

Despite the shortage of farmers, nonetheless at least one novel concern regarding the growing of GM crops emerged. This was described as: 'Loss of dinner party invites'.

But none of this stopped the more glowing tone of the Telegraph's GM story. Its coverage went as far as to claim that 'farmers and farming industry leaders believe GM technology is the only way to produce enough high-quality food as the country's climate changes and the population soars.'

The 'only' way? A weighty conclusion, indeed, when the culminating workshop included only ten farmers.

Yet, the project's own press release, from which the Telegraph's article appears to have been derived, does not even claim this, and the results of the workshop in fact show that attention was also drawn to the importance of other branches of biotechnology such as the use of marker assisted selection in plant breeding (a method based on gene mapping which is generally acceptable to the public and which many scientists consider more important than GM technology - for more on this see: 'The Acceptable Face Of Ag-biotech'
www.nlpwessex.org/docs/monsantomaspossibilities.htm ).

Nonetheless the project press release put out by the Economic and Social Research Council (the government funded body which sponsored the study) was issued under the simplistic title 'WHAT FARMERS THINK ABOUT GM CROPS'.
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-02/esr-wft021908.php

The release says that 'Farmers are upbeat about genetically modified crops, according to new research...' (although the study's publication date is in fact December 2006).

Whether or not SCIMAC had a hand in drafting the February 2007 press release is

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