Comment by GM Freeze on Jimmy's Food Fight
Horizon fails to say GM banana not working – BBC warned in advance of broadcast
Horizon fails to deliver balanced view
GM Freeze press release, 27 November 2008
Claims made by BBC 2's Horizon programme that genetic modification of Ugandan cooking bananas would prevent crop losses from a fungal disease are not correct, say GM Freeze, because Ugandan researchers have told the media that they are failing.
GM Freeze sent a letter, based on a preview DVD of the programme, to the Chair of the BBC Trust and the Editor of Horizon. GM Freeze pointed out that an Ugandan biotechnologist behind the GM bananas had announced to journalists that genetic modification to protect against the Black Sigatoka fungus was not working in all plants and that the team would have to adopt a new approach:
"Depending on where the gene was inserted, it expressed itself inside the crop in a different manner. Our next target will be to see which crop exhibits stronger resistance when the gene is inserted and then we can conduct more experiments."
The letter to the BBC Trust also pointed out that the programme lacked balance and was misleading in many places:
"Based on this analysis we feel very strongly the Horizon editorial team have produced a programme which is heavily biased to one point of view. Is it intending to produce a second programme looking at alternative solutions? Food security is a complex scientific, socio-economic, political and cultural issue which we feel the current programme has failed to do justice to because of the editorial decision to focus on GM crops. We believe that the interests of the viewer would be best served if the programme is not broadcast".
In the letter GM Freeze sets out a number of factual errors, misleading remarks and omissions, including:
- Claims that GM herbicide tolerant crops had reduced pesticide usage ignores research to the contrary due to the development of weed resistance.
- Claims that gene transfer between crops and wild plants were hypothetical when they have already been shown in the field in the UK, Mexico and Canada.
- Failure to fully examine the environmental, social and economic impacts of GM soya production in Argentina.
- Omission of any mention of the use of patents to control global seed markets by the biotech corporations and the impact on farmers’ rights to save seed and on agricultural biodiversity.
- Failure to examine the health and sustainability aspects of Ugandan diet based largely on cooking bananas.
- Failure to look at alternative solutions to tackling food security and environmental problems in clearly set out in the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)
Commenting for GM Freeze, Pete Riley said:
"We are very disappointed with the quality of the programme the Horizon team has produced on GM. This is a very complex area of policy and Horizon had the opportunity to look at all the issues in a balanced and impartial way. They have failed. The claims made about GM bananas in Uganda were grossly exaggerated as there is a long way to go before this research produces trees that have a durable resistance to the fungus – indeed the fungus may overcome resistance as it mutates. Why were these facts not made clear in the Horizon programme? The GM industry are past masters at hyping up their research and now it seems the BBC is happy to go along with it. The film makers also chose to ignore many important issues and glossed over major uncertainties. Members of the public directly taking part in the programme in Norwich were not given a balanced set of facts about GM crops."
- Horizon BBC2 Tuesday 25th November 2008 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00fsxq6/Horizon_Jimmys_GM_Food_Fight/
- Letter from GM Freeze, Friends of the Earth and The Ecologist to the Chair of the BBC Trust – copy available on request
- "Uganda GM banana fails to defeat diseases", Africa Science News Service, 18 June 2008, accessed November 2008
- GE [genetically engineered] corn, soybeans and cotton have led to a 122 million pound increase in pesticide use since 1996. While Bt crops have reduced insecticide use by about 15.6 million pounds over this period, HT [herbicide tolerant] crops have increased herbicide use 138 million pounds. Bt crops have reduced insecticide use on corn and cotton about 5 percent, while HT technology has increased herbicide use about 5 percent across the three major crops. But since so much more herbicide is used on corn, soybeans and cotton, compared to the volume of insecticide applied to corn and cotton, overall pesticide use has risen about 4.1 percent on acres planted to GE varieties. – Charles M. Benbrook, "Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years." Biotech InfoNet, Technical Paper Number 7, October 2004
- "IAASTD report", IAASTD, 2008, accessed November 2008 and "UN/UNCTAD report" UNCTAD, 2008