BBC anti-GM bias
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Naively, I suppose, I tuned in to BBC Radio 4’s "Seeds of Trouble" (8 pm) on Tuesday 7 January 2003 in the vain hope that I might hear some balanced and informed reporting of the real issues or facts surrounding the development of GM crops and modern biotechnology to enhance global food security, and improve the environment and human health. But even the title presaged what is, by now, the predictable UK media and BBC journalistic bias that has completely contaminated any so-called rational "debate' in this country for so many years.

Sadly, this programme turned out to be just another typical piece of blatant anti-American, anti-big business, anti-science, anti-GM propaganda from the controllers and unscientific chattering classes of the BBC.  It sought only to sensationalise, scare-monger and propagate further unfounded conspiracy theories to misinform the public – as if they have not had enough of this overt and subliminal brainwashing by the media and their allies for the past 5 or more years. Yet again the programme attacked, or at best ignored, vast amounts of sound science and evidence-based facts in order to promote the economic self-interest of pro-organic/anti-GM lobby groups who now seem to control PC thinking in the UK.

What the programme omitted to tell its listeners was significant. The data contained in the Chapella and Quist paper (Chapella’s stories occupied almost 50% of the air-time) were so flawed that, in an unprecedented move, Nature were compelled to issue a statement admitting that they should not have published it (something that 2 out of 3 referees in fact recommended in the first place - but the political headline opportunities and media sensationalism of the work had probably proved irresistible to the Editor! With hindsight, this was so!). In short, in no way did the data support the author’s conclusions. As someone on the programme said, "flawed data can be ignored'. Yes, it can. But sadly not when it is guaranteed to be eagerly adopted and widely promulgated as "published truth', in order to
serve the agendas of well-organised, anti-GM activist organisations. Such flawed but sensational data, or "junk science' are essential to feed the activist misinformation campaigns and scare-mongering propaganda. In the past, media-hyped "junk science' from victimised icons such as Puzstai, Ewan, Ho and their ilk have provided ample fodder to assist the agendas of the major pressure/activists groups.

It was also interesting to note that the evangelical BBC "journalist' did not question the source of the $150,000 (or more) used by the two Oregon ladies to promote Ballot Measure 27 to force unnecessary labeling of food with substantially equivalent GM ingredients. There is no scientific or medical evidence to require such labels; but it is important for the unaccountable single-issue pressure groups to demand labelling in order to exploit the culture of fear they have so cleverly created in the public’s consciousness.  Thereby, they hope to complete their task of stigmatization and bring about the economic demise of GM foods without any  shred of evidence of harm – and much evidence of safety and benefit. More so than most conventionally bred crops and foods – including organically grown ones!

Another "amusing', but clever mis-quote was the sum Greenpeace has spent on fighting the global evils of GM – "tens of thousands of dollars'! Tens to hundreds of millions of dollars more like! The anti-GM campaign, with all its scope for stunts and scare-mongering, is a highly profitable big business for Greenpeace, and their competitors in the activist industry. The whackier the message or stunt, the greater the media coverage to generate more membership dollars, to generate more stunts and fear and media coverage, and so on, and on…..a fun and unaccountable business to be in.

The programme was exceptional in its tone and content, even by the prejudiced anti-GM  standards of the BBC. Chapella’s over-dramatized "innocent' victim story of an alleged conspiracy to threaten and silence him was a masterpiece of indulgence and creative journalistic hype.

No mention whatsoever was made of the 5.5 million farmers, worldwide, (3.5 million of them resource-poor farmers in the developing world) who have freely and eagerly (sometimes illegally) demanded and adopted biotechnology in the form of GM seeds. All the facts, evidence and practical experience of farmers over nearly a decade of commercial GM cropping were studiously ignored. Inconveniently, they confirm that increased yields and/or quality of GM products as well as reduced labour, energy and lower pesticide inputs (by tens of millions of kilogrammes per annum) occur. GM crops can dramatically improve the environment and safeguard biodiversity by producing more food on fewer, already cultivated acres - thus reducing pressures to extend land-use by  "taming' wilderness (i.e. destroying habitats and biodiversity). GM crops can also improve soil structure and soil quality by requiring less tillage, which causes less compaction. They also reduce the range and amount of older, more toxic herbicides used, or the use of organically-approved flame-sterilisation of fields to destroy weed seeds (and everything else).

Verdict – yet another predictable reinforcement by the BBC of its prejudiced opinions against GM technology which conveniently avoids all sound scientific facts. The programme was completely silent on the vast body of evidence that confirm GM crops and modern biotechnology can bring benefits to make agriculture more sustainable than the haphazard and pragmatic practices of past centuries.

How refreshing it would be if, just for once, the BBC could raise its journalistic standards, acknowledge its public responsibility to inform, and focus on facts and truth, by producing a straightforward report on this issue. For once, could it resist the temptation to set up the usual theatrical confrontation between scientists and activists as a so-called "balanced debate'.

Battles of sound bites, and hysterical sensational propaganda claims get us nowhere. While this formula may well entertain, it has done huge harm to the world’s perception of the status of science and the pursuit of knowledge and evidence-based regulation in the UK (and Europe). In fact the BBC’s recipe seems to be aimed solely at confusing and scaring the vast majority of the UK public unnecessarily over the real options for future sustainable food security and health for everyone.

Prof. T Michael A Wilson FRSE is the Chief Executive of Horticulture Research International in UK: michael.wilson@hri.ac.uk 

Reprinted letter to AgBioView, Feb 3, 2003 http://www.agbioworld.org/

 

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