Press Notice 27 November 2009 from GM-Free Cymru
Study was used as a "training" vehicle
GM-Free Cymru has said that it is "utterly astonished" that the Food Standards Agency used a commissioned study (into public attitudes relating to GM food) as an "in-house training vehicle."
Expending public funds, FSA commissioned the National Centre for Social Research to undertake (purportedly) a study of public attitudes to GM crops and food (1). This was ludicrous enough, given that there have been extensive GM public debates and consultations several times over the past five years -- always with the same results, namely that the great majority of the public does not want GM crops or foods and that people are deeply sceptical about attempts by the Government and the GM industry to force GM products upon them, whether they want them or not (2). At every opportunity the FSA has sought to promote the Government line that GM crops are safe, harmless to the environment and necessary for the future of agriculture. This new research, supposedly designed to "inform" the Steering Group of the recently- announced GM Dialogue, is in the eyes of most observers simply a part of the Government's new strategy to justify GM farming on "climate change" and "food security" grounds. The £750,000 price-tag, and indeed the whole exercise, has been heavily criticized. (3)
However, the Agency justifies the "dialogue" on the basis that "science moves on and the context of discussions about GM has changed" since 2003. That implies that there is now "better" or "more convincing" science to underpin the Government position -- but that is simply not true, and much new evidence has come forward to demonstrate that GM is associated with a raft of harmful effects (4).
The Agency also says in its press release: "The FSA is committed to giving consumers accurate information, based on scientific evidence, and helping people to make informed choices about the food they eat." GM-Free Cymru argues that this sentence should be rephrased as follows: "The FSA is committed to giving consumers partial information, based on selected scientific evidence, and guiding people to make the choices which we want about the food they eat."
Speaking for GM-Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "The information about this study has been heavily promoted by FSA, to coincide with the first meeting of the Steering Group charged with running the GM Dialogue. The FSA press release, and other statements to the media, are disingenuous and downright misleading. We are still reading the research report, but already we are struck by two things. First, the researchers talked to just 30 selected interviewees, so the findings are statistically insignificant. No unanimity of views was found -- but if there had been, we can be sure that the findings would have been flagged up just like the findings of the ludicrous research that purported to show, in the spring of 2008, that "farmers are upbeat about GM crops." (5) As it is, sections of the media have run with the story that according to the research, GM crop sceptics are emotional, and GM crop supporters are more rational. That is sheer nonsense, and it is in any case not what the report says. (6)
"Second, we are utterly astonished to find that during the course of the work, an FSA "expert" made a presentation to the 30 respondents which was then assessed as to its effectiveness in "changing attitudes and opinions." (7) We have no idea what the FSA representative said, but we can be sure that it was propaganda dressed up as impartial and objective science. We are appalled that the FSA insisted on this, and equally appalled that the research team permitted it. This ranks high on the scale of unethical behaviour, and demonstrates that this was not intended to be an impartial study, but a component of a sophisticated GM promotional campaign (8).
"We have to conclude that the FSA has simply used this piece of research as a means of honing its "educational skills" -- with a view to moving the opinions of members of the British public towards either greater confusion as to the real issues in the GM debate, or a greater sense of complacency that "all is well" and that we are all being well looked after."
Contact: Dr Brian John GM-Free Cymru Tel 01239-820470
(1) Quote: "This work was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), an independent research organisation, and was a qualitative piece of work designed to: • explore why people hold particular views on GM food • better understand how people’s attitudes to GM food are formed • explore how people weigh up the risks and benefits associated with GM food • and explore the circumstances in which people change their views The FSA commissioned this work to complement a series of questions on food technologies, including GM foods, in the British Social Attitudes Survey 2008 (BSA). The results of the BSA are expected in early 2010." Exploring attitudes to GM food Final Report Authors: Ruth Sheldon, Nicola Cleghorn, Clarissa Penfold, Ashley Brown and Thomas Newmark National Centre for Social Research Date: 24th November 2009 Prepared for: Social Science Research Unit, Food Standards Agency FSA release 25 November 2009
Report exploring attitudes to GM food published Wednesday 25 November 2009 GM Dialogue Must Put Citizens First
(3) Geoff Lean: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/6563658/Unlocking-the-English-countryside.html
Will our views on GM food be 'modified’? Not another GM debate The Daily Telegraph, 17 November 2009
Text from http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/board/fsa091103.pdf
accessed via: http://www.food.gov.uk/aboutus/ourboard/boardmeetings/boardmeetings2009/091110/agenda091110
(4) NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY, VOLUME 27, NUMBER 10, October 2009 http://www.emilywaltz.com/Biotech_crop_research_restrictions_Oct_2009.pdf
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(6) GM crop sceptics 'emotional', Government food watchdog report claims. Public opposition to genetically modified food is based on “emotion” rather than “reason”, a Food Standards Agency report which will help shape future Government policy claims.
(7) From page 4 of the Executive Summary: "Participants were given a presentation by a representative from the Novel Foods division of the FSA which provided an overview of issues relating to GM food, including the role of the FSA. The questions participants raised after the presentation revealed key concerns about the availability of GM food in the UK, how regulation works and the possible consequences of GM food in relation to food prices, the environment and health. Responses to this information were mediated by participants’ pre- existing views. Previous positive attitudes and trust in authorities translated in to trust in the FSA expert and the presentation content. Conversely, previously expressed negative or sceptical attitudes translated into scepticism about the objectivity of the FSA expert. The presentation content impacted most on the views of those who were undecided, whose awareness of the potential benefits of GM food increased resulting in more positive views towards GM food."
(8) Brook Lyndhurst (2009), An evidence review of public attitudes to emerging food technologies, London. Food Standards Agency, available at www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/emergingfoodtech.pdf
Parliamentary statement made to the House of Commons on GM crops by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, HC Deb, 9 March 2004, cols 1381-4 Cabinet Office Strategy Unit (2008) Food Matters: Towards a Strategy for the 21st Century, Cabinet Office, London; Defra (2009) Food Matters: One year on, available at:
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