10 August 2022 – for immediate release
Yorkshire farmer urges BBC to respect the science and address ‘false balance’ in biotech coverage
A Yorkshire arable farmer who took part in the Government’s GM crop Farm-Scale Evaluations (FSE) over 20 years ago has criticised the BBC for failing to respect the science in its coverage of genetic engineering in food and agriculture.
Writing on the Science for Sustainable Agriculture website, Phil Lodge, who farms on the outskirts of Doncaster, explained his reasons for taking part in the GM crop trials:
“Having visited Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada in the 1990’s both pre- and post-adoption of GM canola, I was interested in the technology’s potential here in Britain. The economic and environmental benefits were clear. Scott Day, a pioneering Manitoba zero-till farmer, clocked 600 tractor hours/year pre-GM and 150 tractor hours/year with GM and zero-till, saving oceans of fuel on prairies and delivering benefits for soil conservation and wildlife.”
“The Canadian experience has been replicated around the world. Millions of farmers, in both developed and developing countries, are choosing GM technology because it works. GM crops are supporting major economic and environmental benefits in terms of increased yields, fewer pesticide sprays, less soil erosion and reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” he writes.
Mr Lodge adds that after more than 25 years of large-scale commercial cultivation of GM crops around the world, not a single negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption has been documented, and yet reporting of the issue in the British media continues to imply that genetic engineering remains highly controversial and uncertain.
“Where the BBC seems to accept the scientific evidence behind man-made climate change, and no longer pursues a policy of ‘false balance’ by giving equal airtime to climate change sceptics, the same cannot be said of their treatment of GMOs and genetic engineering in agriculture.”
“Next time you tune in to ‘Countryfile’ or ‘Farming Today’, rest assured that if genetic engineering is on the agenda, the considered views of eminent scientists will be counter-balanced by unsubstantiated rants from activist campaigners, claiming ‘unknown effects’ or ‘long-term risks.’”
“How long will it take before the global weight of scientific evidence behind the safety and efficacy of GM crops finally seeps into the consciousness of BBC journalists, editors and producers?” he asks.
Quite some time, he suggests, judging by the ‘shockingly one-sided’ coverage by the BBC as recently as September 2020, marking 20 years since the height of the GM debate when 28 Greenpeace activists were acquitted of criminal damage after trashing a GM crop research trial.
Mr Lodge notes that reporting on the BBC website and on Radio 4’s ‘The Reunion’ programme conveyed the impression, without challenge, that the actions of those protesting and campaigning against GM crops should be celebrated and applauded.
“Having hosted successive GM crop trials as part of the FSE programme, it is shameful that the BBC should be portraying anti-GM activists in heroic terms when many of the trial growers involved were subjected to death threats, intimidation, trespass, vandalism and bad-mouthing in the local community. The BBC should be learning the lessons of 20 years ago and distancing itself from such a dark period for the cause of agricultural science.”
“But perhaps more importantly, the BBC simply ignores the fact that one of the main achievements of the anti-GM movement was to set back science and innovation in British agriculture by decades, spreading fear and lies about a technology which in the intervening years has been rapidly adopted elsewhere in the world with an impeccable safety track record.”
“Continued access to innovation, and particularly genetic advances, will be critical to our future ability to feed a growing world population sustainably. It is equally critical that public discussion of these advances should be transparent and balanced, acknowledging the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence behind their safety and efficacy,” concludes Mr Lodge.
Notes to Editors
Phil Lodge manages a small-scale arable farm in South Yorkshire. He was a trial grower in the Government’s GM crop Farm-Scale Evaluation programme from 1999-2004. He has since stopped growing conventional beet because the economics of weed control do not stack up without GM technology. From a farming background, he sold his house in the 1970s to raise a deposit on his own farm, a 90-hectare, Grade-3 gravelly-sand farm on the urban fringe of Doncaster. “I am not likely to gain massive economic benefit from GM, just a nicer, more common-sense way of growing crops, which is what I live for.”
Phil Lodge’s commentary first appeared on the Science for Sustainable Agriculture website here.
Science for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) is a new policy and communications platform, offering a focal point for information, comment and debate around modern, sustainable agriculture and food production. Supported by an independent advisory group of political, scientific and industry leaders from a range of sectors and backgrounds (listed below), SSA’s aim is to promote a conversation rooted in scientific evidence, rather than ideology. Science for Sustainable Agriculture will provide a platform for like-minded individuals and organisations to champion and explain the vital role of science and technology in safeguarding our food supply, tackling climate change and protecting the natural environment. SSA also stands ready to expose, comment on and challenge unscientific positions or policy decisions in relation to sustainable agriculture.
Further information about Science for Sustainable Agriculture is available here.
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Matt Ridley – science writer and farmer
Professor Tina Barsby – plant scientist
Dr Julian Little – science communicator
Graham Brookes – agricultural economist
Lord Rooker - politician
Professor Helen Sang – livestock scientist
Helen Munday – food industry scientist
Dr Helen Ferrier – scientific and regulatory affairs adviser
Dr Craig Lewis – livestock breeder
David Hill – arable farmer
Paul Temple – mixed farmer
Professor Johnathan Napier – plant scientist
Julian Sturdy MP – politician and farmer
Alex Waugh – primary food processing
Dr Alastair Leake – agronomist and conservation scientist
Karen Holt – regulatory consultant
Nigel Moore – plant breeding
Daniel Pearsall – co-ordinator
Daniel Pearsall, co-ordinator
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