The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) awarded the money to Open University researchers using a ‘relationship-building approach’ in order to investigate farmers’ views on the importance of new technology in farming, and GM in particular.
The research included the views of just two organic farmers ‘for contextual purposes’, whose contributions were relegated to footnotes in the reports, allowing the researchers to define the phrase ‘all the farmers’ as ‘referring to all those interviewed that were nonorganic’.
The culmination of the research – an all-day workshop in London – was attended by only 10 farmers, in addition to 15 members of the farmers’ ‘communities of influence’, which included representatives from the biotechnology giants DuPont and Syngenta, as well as representatives of the pro-GM National Farmers’ Union.
When the Ecologist asked how the ESRC could justify promoting such research as the views of ‘farmers’ in general, a spokesperson said: ‘We accept that the phrasing of the opening line of the press release could have been more precise, however the facts as stated in the press release are accurate and stand as written.’ The funding body insisted that ‘balance had been maintained’ and that the research had been peer-reviewed, but admitted that it promotes all funded research ‘independent of specific findings’. Sustainable agriculture group FARM described the study as ‘blatantly pro-GM propaganda’ and ‘poor-quality research’.
The report was released within a fortnight of research by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), which claimed that the planted area of GM crops had increased by 12 per cent in 2007. An examination of the figures by lobby group GM Freeze, however, revealed that ISAAA had falsely inflated its data by including for the first time a number of Chinese GM poplar trees which had been planted years earlier.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist April 2008