Survey claiming "millennials have no qualms about GM crops" not only biased but violated rules on reporting
During the UK's Bank Holiday last weekend, the results were announced from a survey commissioned by the GM industry body the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) and carried out by the polling firm Populus. The survey, according to the Telegraph, found that "Millennials 'have no qualms about GM crops' unlike older generation".
Many of us who are opposed to GM foods and crops wondered if the questions asked were biased, since the GMO lobby has a long history of asking leading questions in surveys in order to get the results they want. But we couldn't check, because none of the articles that parroted the GMO lobby's line about millennials supporting GM crops gave a link to the actual survey. Nor was it available on Populus's or the ABC's websites.
Certain journalists who contacted GMO skeptics for comments on the survey also didn't have access to the actual survey, so couldn’t check it for bias. That says a great deal about the willingness of some journalists to write articles about GMOs without even having the necessary evidence at their disposal.
Finally today, perhaps in response to queries from skeptical members of the public, Populus put the survey tables online, under "New Farming Techniques".
It turns out that the skeptics were right. The questions were appallingly biased.
All the questions in the poll were preceded by some information: "Technology is increasingly being developed to tackle the challenges of 21st century farming and food security. Innovative techniques have been designed to provide the best possible data collection and management to allow greater precision across the food production process. The benefits of these techniques include: allowing more targeted weed, pest and disease control, reducing energy usage, delivering higher yields and overall allowing for more sustainable and productive farming. To what extent would you support or oppose the following farming techniques?"
This clearly is intended to suggest that all of the techniques people were then asked about deliver some or all of these benefits, but in the case of GM and gene editing, that is a matter of huge public controversy. So the introduction cannot by any stretch of the imagination be seen as a neutral piece of information.
Only after being given this information were people asked, in the GM question, what they thought about "Plant breeding using gene editing to make crops more nutritious, pest and disease resistant".
It is astonishing that Populus allowed its reputation to be tarnished with such a one-sided, biased question, and then allowed the answer to be interpreted as providing uncritical support for all GM and gene editing crops, which is exactly how this question has been used by the ABC.
Violations of polling rules?
The question arises as to how and why Populus seems to have violated the rules for conducting polls. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and thus must adhere to its rules. They include a stipulation that the complete wording of the actual question asked is made public at the same time as the survey results, not several days later, as in this case. Populus's failure to publish the data of the "millennials" survey in timely fashion appears to be a violation of this rule.
In addition, reputable polling companies insist that questions are asked in ways that do not bias the answers people give. The British Polling Council says, "It is ... possible to introduce bias into a survey by means of question wording", but "it is unlikely that a poll conducted by a reputable organisation would contain any serious bias in its questionnaire". By this definition, Populus has lost the right to be called a reputable organisation.
If an anti-GMO organisation had manipulated a poll in this way, no one would have bothered to report its findings, unless it was to criticise the poll for being unscientific.