Farmers and GM Crops: new report slammed as 'propaganda dressed up as science'
Press Notice from GM Free Cymru, 22 February 2008
The Open University and the Economic and Social Research Council have been slammed for deception and duplicity following the release of a press statement about a new study into the attitudes of farmers towards GM crops.
The press statement, embargoed until 1 am on Sunday 24th February, begins with these words: 'Farmers are upbeat about genetically modified crops, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).'
Although there is an admission in the text that the researchers canvassed the views of large-scale commodity farmers in their work, the lead author, Prof Andy Lane, is quoted as saying, 'New technology such as GM is attractive to farmers', and there are several other references in the press release to the attitudes of farmers in general to new developments including GM.
The wording of the press release has been manufactured to give the impression that the findings of the study refer to the farming community as a whole -- and it was clearly the intention that the first sentence of the piece would be widely quoted by the media.
GM Free Cymru, a community group which specializes in the safety and environmental impacts of GM crops and foods, has seen the press release (1) and the initial OU research brief (2), and claims that GBP131,000 of public money has been expended over three years on an elaborate piece of pro-GM propaganda.
'The research funding was awarded for a study of farmers' knowledge of GM and of their attitudes to the growing of GM crops,' said spokesman Dr Brian John. 'The brief maintained a pretence that the WHOLE of the farming community would be sampled -- and even if the researchers had been primary school children they would have worked out (a) that the sample needed to be quite large in order to give useful results, and (b) that stratified sampling would be needed, across many geographical locations, to take accounts of such groups as conventional farmers, organic farmers, industrial farmers and smallholders. Instead of that, the OU research team concentrated all of their efforts on 30 large-scale commodity farmers and their 'associates' and 'networks', whose pro-GM attitudes have been known for years -- and then dressed up their responses as somehow representative of the farming community.'
And how were the 30 farmers chosen? By none other than SCIMAC and the NFU, two bodies which have for years been unashamedly promoting the virtues of GM at every opportunity (3). These two bodies were also involved in designing the research, in planning questioning strategies, and in assessing the responses of the 30 farmers. The NFU is also involved in promoting the research findings to the wider farming community.
'I don't think I have ever seen such a blatantly manipulated piece of research,' said Dr John. 'It would be a simple matter to put this down to interference by the NFU and SCIMAC and to naivety on the part of the researchers. But we cannot believe that the OU and ESRC were unaware of what they were doing, or of the thoroughly dishonest contents of the press release (4). None of those involved were born yesterday, and it is obvious from the project publications that the objective of this research was the widespread 'enabling' of GM crops in the UK.' (5)
'What we see here is duplicity and deception on a substantial scale. The research has departed significantly from its apparently innocent brief, and it may be that the GBP131,000 grant was obtained under false pretences. Is the research actually fraudulent? That is something for ESRC to decide when it reads the published document. In our view, the report which is promoted through Sunday's press release is nothing more than crude GM pro-propaganda dressed up as serious science. It should be binned, and we as taxpayers should demand our money back.'
Contact: Dr Brian John
GM Free Cymru
1. WHAT FARMERS THINK ABOUT GM CROPS
EMBARGOED UNTIL 00:01HRS SUNDAY 24TH 2008 'Farmers are upbeat about genetically modified crops, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)...................'
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
2. Grant value: £131,009.33
ESRC grant number: RES-151-25-0046
Substantive Research Contract
Award/Grant Name: Farmers' Understandings of Genetically Modified Crops within Local Communities Award/Grant Holder: Professor Andrew Bertie Lane Programme Name: Science in Society
Co-applicant(s): Dr S Carr, Dr Sue Oreszczyn Start Date: 01/08/2004 End Date: 31/07/2007
3. 'This report documents, in farmers’ own words, the themes and issues that this first round of telephone interviews generated. Its purpose is to feed back some initial views so that the farmers interviewed, and the National Farmers’ Union, and SCIMAC2, who are acting as advisors on this project and who proposed the names of the farmers for the interviews3, may add their own observations at an early stage.'
farmerstelephoneinterviewreport.pdf, OU, July 2005, by Dr Sue Oreszczyn http://technology.open.ac.uk/cts/esrcfarmer.htm
See this: http://www.scimac.org.uk/
SCIMAC is the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops 'SCIMAC is a grouping of industry organisations along the UK farm supply chain, established in 1998 to support the carefully managed introduction of GM crops in the UK.'
4. The following were also involved in the study as workshop participants: ADAS UK Ltd, Broom's Barn, DEFRA, DuPont Frontier Agriculture Ltd, Ebbage Seeds, NFU, NIAB, Rothamsted Research, Syngenta Seeds Ltd, SCIMAC, Scottish Crop Research Institute, Syngenta, The Arable Group.
5. The researchers belong to the Biotechnology Policy Group at the OU Faculty of Technology.
They are also associated with the INNOGEN project (ESRC Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in Genomics) and with the INNOGEN Research Centre. On the INNOGEN web site:
This project is shown as a co-funded project. There is no information on the names of the other funders.
The web page relating to the project 'Farmers' Understandings of GM Crops within Local Communities' maintains the pretence that the farming community as a whole was being tested with relation to GM experience and attitudes; there is no mention at all of the fact that the research was skewed onto a very small sample of large-scale commodity farmers. This deception pervades all three published parts of the Report.