“Jimmy Doherty’s GM Food Fight” was shown on BBC 2 at 9pm on 25th November, 2008. It motivated (annoyed) me in to writing this post.
I found the programme to be quite biased. In many ways and on many levels…
He misses out large parts of the arguments against GM crops.
E.g., that companies like Monsanto (and others) are only creating them to make money. Monsanto are selling seeds that will require pesticides and fertiliser (also, conveniently, bought from Monsanto) in order to produce the yields they talk about. They really don’t care about any negative effects of GM crops and would sell them even if they were aware of any (you want to know exactly how evil Monsanto are? Check out their Wikipedia page). And there are no guarantees that those same farmers that Monsanto are “helping” will be able to afford the rising costs of the Monsanto products they become locked in to.
Another example of a point he skips over is that there is evidence showing that the contamination of non-GM plants can also spread to weeds, making them resistant to pesticides. This means we will have to use more and stronger pesticides to combat them. Just as the frivolous use of antibiotics in medicine and food is leading to new races of “super bugs” that are resistant to our medicines, so too could we end up with “super weeds”. GM public debate: Environmental damage | Greenpeace UK
He dismisses several key arguments against GM, either downplaying them, or not exploring them properly.
The exploration of how GM crops might be harmful to the environment is laughable! He ends up concluding they might be beneficial! Really!? A quick google brings up some different opinions: Number 10’s wildlife experts warn against GM damage | UK news | The Observer GM crops could damage bird populations, warns visiting Macaulay seminar speaker – The Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen Prince Charles warns GM crops risk causing the biggest-ever environmental disaster – Telegraph
The exploration of whether GM foods are harmful misses out some seriously damning studies. You can read more in the articles below, but (in summary) GM corn, canola, soy and potatoes (including some of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” GM product line) have been linked with “liver lesions and indications of toxicity”, “altered production of liver enzymes”, “excessive cell growth” (possible cancer) and “damaged organs and immune systems” in studies on rats. Not to mention another study that showed infertility and very high infant mortality rates in rats fed on GM soy. PCC | GM Food Crops: Consumer Health Concerns: Reproductive failures and infant mortality GM diets may cause organ damage and disease | Perspectives… To be honest though, I suspect the program avoided these issues for legal reasons. Another aspect that is not explored by the programme is how heavy-handed Monsanto (and I would imagine others) are with anyone who criticises them — see the “Legal” section on Monsanto’s Wikipedia page.
Another point he downplays is the irreversible nature of the contamination of non-GM crops by GM crops. GM public debate: Environmental damage | Greenpeace UK
Some points in the programme are downright misleading.
There are no flood-resistant or drought-resistant GM crops currently. There are some GM trials where they are experimenting with genetic manipulation to achieve this. You wouldn’t know that by watching the programme though. Peter Melchett: Who can we trust on GM food? | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
I also found the whole tone of the programme to be biased.
E.g., he continually refers to the people creating GM crops as “the scientists” (think: those clever people), rather than “the companies” (think: those greedy evil-doers). In fact, I think they are only refered to as companies about once, maybe twice, throughout the whole programme.
Another example: The conversation with the African GM scientist regarding people breaking in to the facility to steal (rather than damage) the GM crops. Bare in mine that, as with most TV, the scene is not some casual conversation, but a staged (possibly scripted) conversation. With that in mind, watch the scene again. See how Jimmy “misunderstands” that people wanted to steal, not damage, the crops (Jimmy: cue fake laugh). And if that’s not bad enough, he actually repeats the whole fake misunderstanding a second time to really spell it out and make sure the point is hammered home!
Another example: Jimmy refers to Americans “happily eating GM foods for years”. This is not entirely true – they don’t know when they’re eating them. They don’t label them over there! If they are happy as they eat them, it is only through ignorance.
I don’t mean to be picky… but there are so many “little” examples of bias that contribute to the overall tone. I found them really quite annoying.
Ok, this post’s really getting a bit long now. And it’s late! Sorry about my rant. :o)
If you want to read another rant about this program, this article is very good: GM Food Fight breaks out the natureheads blog
Also, if you want to read a sensible response to this TV programme then I would highly recommend reading the following article. It is up-to-date (9th December, 2008) and although it talks about a pro-GM radio programme, it could just as easily be talking about Jimmy Doherty’s Food Fight. Peter Melchett: Who can we trust on GM food? | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Update: This article is also good: Jimmy’s GM Food Fix
Update: Study finds that Monsanto GMO Corn is linked with organ failure.