Did the BBC Panorama programme GM Food – Cultivating Fear usher in a new “pro-GM television future”?

That’s the question raised by the head of the Soil Association, Helen Browning – a contributor to the programme, which was aired yesterday evening.

Presented by the BBC’s rural affairs correspondent, Tom Heap, the Panorama special set out to find out if opponents to GM were “doing more harm than good” by rejecting “the new generation of GM foods winning over scientists and (former) critics”.

Those former critics – notably former Greenpeace director, Stephen Tindale, and environmental activist Mark Lynas – were given the most sympathetic treatment by the programme (Lynas being repeatedly referred to as ‘Mark’ by Heap), and the most coverage – together with GM scientist Jonathan Jones. GM opponents, including Helen Browning, Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr and organic farmer Farida Akhter, got considerably less air time, and points made by Parr and Akhter were bluntly challenged by Heap, adding to an apparent lack of editorial balance.

helen browningCommenting, Browning said: “The premise of the Panorama programme seems to be that while there may be problems with current GM crops, the next generation will bring social and environmental benefits. Yet we still have millions of acres of GM crops that are harming the environment, sprayed with a chemical that is now thought to be carcinogenic, and have not made any progress on maintaining consumer choice, labelling and liability for contamination of organic or non GM crops, this just feels like propaganda to gain public acceptance of a technology that is doing such damage, and for which there is no recall button.”

“this just feels like propaganda to gain public acceptance of a technology that is doing such damage”

She added: “… the Soil Association is firmly committed to campaigning against GM and we hope we have struck some balance in what we think could be quite a pro-GM television feature.”

jonathan jonesIn the programme, professor Jonathan Jones of the Sainsbury Laboratory likened GM technology  to downloading an app to a smart phone. He said: “If you download an app you’ve got some added functionality on your smart phone. It’s hard to see how you could do anything dangerous by doing that.”

• Watch GM Food – Cultivating Fear

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About the Author

Jim Manson

Jim Manson is Editor-In-Chief of Diversified Communication UK's natural and organic publishing portfolio. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, Time Out and World Bank Urban Age.

Articles by Jim Manson
Jim Manson

5 Responses to Was this the beginning of a pro-GM television future?

  1. Avatar
    David Whitley June 13, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    Steven Druker in his new book ‘Altered Genes, Twisted Truth’ clearly exposes the inaccuracy of the proposition that adding genes by rDNA technology is like adding an app to the smart phone. In Chapter 11 he explains the stark contrast between genetic engineering and software engineering. The programmes that govern the function of living organisms are non-linear, non-localised and vastly more complex that even the most complex human derived software so that imprecise additions of foreign genes must have unexpected consequences.

  2. Avatar
    Dharmesh Shah June 13, 2015 at 6:36 am #

    I Agree it was a very biased program and we should all çollectively complain to BBC. The licence fee is not supposed to fund Big corporates and chemical companies and should remain in independant.

  3. Avatar
    Johnny B Bad June 12, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    Good timing, by the beeb as the bilderberg meeting. Gets on the way!

  4. Avatar
    Libby June 12, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    I saw the programme and agree that it was very biased towards pro GM (new generation). I was hoping
    and expecting some analysis of the American experience with GM. I recall that Heap mentioned they
    had been grown in the USA for 20 years but did not continue with any comments about the American experience, either pro or against, which puzzled me.

    I have read a plea in Natural Products magazine by some American farmers for Britain and Europe not to
    go down the GM road as they did because of the problems they have faced. It was a warning to us. The American experience should be explored.

  5. Avatar
    Paul Robinson June 9, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    The lack of balance in this programme was astonishing. The BBC made it clear where the UK government stands on this issue. Was surprised that they didn’t mention the negative economic consequences that pushing GMO crops can bring.

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