GM WATCH COMMENT: Following the piece we posted recently from Farmers Weekly about the Derbyshire farmer who dropped out of a forthcoming UK GM potato trial, supposedly because of threats made against him, Tom Rigby of Farmers For a GM-Free Future has pointed out that the Farmers Guardian - another publication for UK farmers - has made it even clearer than Farmers Weekly that there have been no threats:
"Derbyshire Police said this week the farmer had made 'no specific complaints' about any threat but feared he may receive some if he went ahead with the trials. BASF said it had not pressurised the farmer to explain his decision further".
According to Farmers Weekly, the farmer's concerns were triggered by the intense publicity surrounding the trial.
"As far as I can see all that had changed between him signing up for the trial and his decision to withdraw was opposition from both the Potato Council and Derbyshire County Council."
In the light of the fact that we now know there were no threats of any kind made against the farmer, it's interesting to consider the coverage generated.
An article by The Guardian's science correspondent, Ian Sample, was headlined, "Farmer quits GM trial after phone threats." The origin of this "phone threats" claim is unclear. In the article it states only that, "He [the farmer] is believed to have received anonymous phone calls about his involvement in the trials."
But although the evidence for any threats has been directly contradicted by the police, and was clearly never more than hearsay from interested parties, a BBC News report told us:
"many scientists are angry and have criticised what they deem to be intimidation."
On BBC Radio 4's Farming Today the condemnation of scientists was reported in some detail, with comparisons made to extreme animal rights protests. The BBC's rural affairs correspondent, Tom Heap, went on to discuss whether the "threats" meant that the location of trials would have to be kept secret in future.
An article widely circulated by pro-GM lists like CS Prakash's AgBioView waxed still more dramatic about the implications, saying the Derbyshire farmer's story showed reason, freedom and democracy were all under threat and calling for a robust response from the authorities:
"As with the criminal activity of antivivisection extremists (plenty of examples of which are already well known), it is essential that the Government and the police take a firm stand... If we are all free to damage property and intimidate people associated with things with which we disagree, we are living not in liberty but in anarchy. These actions undermine freedom in the name of irrational beliefs. Today's story is a defeat for reason and for freedom." http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=6742
What we're looking at here is not a one-off case of misreporting but a classic example of a recurrent public relations strategy, which we've detailed elsewhere, intended to demonise those opposed to GM crops as a means of undermining public sympathy and inhibiting protest.
It would be nice, though, if journalists like the Guardian's science correspondent and the BBC's rural affairs correspondent bothered to check out the evidence before relaying biotech PR.