Jimmy Doherty

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Jimmy Doherty is a pig farmer who has fronted programmes about farming on BBC TV, becoming a media personality in the process. His documentary series Jimmy Doherty's Farming Heroes surprised many who remembered his series about his own near-organic pig farm (Jimmy's Farm), because of its uncritical enthusiasm in some of the programmes for agribiz-friendly intensive farming and monocultures.

In November 2008 Jimmy fronted a BBC Horizon programme on genetically modified (GM) crops (Jimmy's GM Food Fight) which was broadcast in November 2008. While both the BBC and Horizon try to give the appearance of being fair and balanced in their approach, the programme was seen by many environmental and anti-GM campaigners as extremely biased in favour of GM.[1]

PAN UK letter to BBC about Jimmy's GM Food Fight

PAN UK [Pesticide Action Network UK] letter to BBC

Jimmy's GM Food Fight - Horizon, broadcast BBC2, Tuesday 25 November 2008[2]

PAN UK welcomes informed debate about agriculture, food, the environment and development. Unfortunately in Jimmy's GM Food Fight the information was unbalanced, and the case against GM unfairly represented. The programme did raise some health and environmental concerns about GM agriculture, but some important strands of the debate were completely omitted. A viewer with no knowledge of these wider issues could easily draw unfounded conclusions about GM technology and its supposed benefits to the environment and development.

Opposition to GM was mainly illustrated by footage of activists destroying crops, rather than by a rational exploration of the valid concerns regarding GM agriculture. A very short interview with Peter Melchett of the Soil Association did not allow enough time to redress the balance.

There were many issues that could have been raised in the programme to present a more rounded debate; two in particular are discussed below.

The programme stated that both herbicide resistant soya, and Bt corn, could be grown with lower levels of pesticide application, and these technologies were thus presented as benefiting the environment. There was no mention of the fact that this is disputed in both cases. Whilst some short term studies show a decrease in pesticide applications, there is also evidence that where GM crops are grown, pesticide use will increase over the long term due to resistant strains of pests arising, and to the arrival of 'secondary pests' when one pest is controlled. GM crops alone cannot lead to an overall reduction in pesticide use in the long term; they could only do so within a good Integrated Pest Management system.

This leads to the second major omission of the programme, which presents GM as a necessary technological solution to the urgent problem of falling food productivity in Africa. PAN UK cannot comment on the particular example that was shown in the programme. However, in general, there are many tools available to increase agricultural productivity. Improvements in soil, water and pest management – in other words, increasing knowledge, rather than inputs – can massively increase yields for many small-scale farmers throughout the world, and without the farmers becoming reliant on an expensive technology. International research collaborations are beginning to acknowledge the underexploited resource that is knowledge based agriculture. There are many scientists, as well as development experts and NGOs, not only in Europe but also in the developing world, who believe that GM does not benefit the environment, and is not an appropriate solution to solve productivity problems. Yet the programme failed to interview, or represent the views of any of these stakeholders in the developing world.

It was very disappointing in the BBC's flagship science and technology programme that a wider range of scientific opinion was not sought. PAN UK sincerely hopes the BBC will be taking steps to redress the imbalance of information presented in this programme.

Complaints to BBC about Jimmy's GM Food Fight

The producer and director of Jimmy's GM Food Fight, the prime time soft-sell advertisement for GM (see Jimmy's GM Food Fix), was Michael Lachmann. After viewer complaints, the BBC investigated whether the programme was biased. For a long time, the BBC refused to answer one viewer's persistent query as to whether the programme's director was in any way related to Sir Peter Lachmann, a notoriously aggressive pro-GM scientist. Eventually, persistence paid off, however, when the BBC finally admitted during the appeal process that: "Sir Peter Lachmann is indeed the father of Michael."[3]

The information provided by the BBC to its Editorial Standards Committee only identifies Sir Peter as "a Cambridge Professor of Immunology of great eminence", who "chaired the Royal Society expert group which produced the Society's first report on GM crops" which concluded it was a potentially beneficial technology. "Since then," it goes on, "Sir Peter has been involved in several heated debates over GM."[4]

This seriously underplays the controversial nature of Sir Peter Lachmann's involvement. A leading GM proponent, Lachmann was at the forefront of the campaign by the Royal Society to discredit the Hungarian-born scientist Arpad Pusztai, after he warned that his research had found GM potatoes harmed rats. In an astonishing revelation at the time, a Guardian front page article reported the editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, as saying he had been threatened by Lachmann over the Lancet's planned publication of Pusztai's research. Towards the end of what was described as a highly aggressive phone call, Lachmann apparently told Horton that if he published Pusztai's paper, this would 'have implications for his personal position' as editor.[5]

The information provided to the BBC's Editorial Standards Committee also failed to note Lachmann's links over the years to commercial companies with biotech interests (see Peter Lachmann).[6]

According to the BBC, the BBC's head of editorial policy, Su Pennington, was consulted about the possible conflict of interest posed by Michael Lachmann's relationship to Peter Lachmann - though it is not spelled out in the BBC report (1) whether the idea for the programme came from Michael Lachmann or from a commissioning editor at the BBC, or (2) exactly when the conversation about the possible conflict of interest between Pennington and Michael Lachmann took place, i.e. before or after complaints were received. The BBC reports that Pennington said, "it seemed to her in principle clear that just because a relative holds beliefs or has a specific job, that doesn't mean his son would share his beliefs or is conflicted."[7]

It is of course true that just because a close relative strongly holds certain beliefs or has particular professional interests, it doesn't mean his son automatically shares those beliefs or interests. But surely the BBC wouldn't put out a programme on, say, the case for the Iraq war that was produced and directed by the son of Donald Rumsfeld, or by Euan Blair, without owning up to the connection? And wouldn't that be still more the case if the programme was attracting controversy even before it was broadcast?[8]

Dr Pusztai and his wife (and co-researcher on the GM potatoes study) Dr Susan Bardocz were recently presented with the Stuttgart Peace Prize, in recognition of their "courage and scientific integrity as well as their undaunted insistence on the public's right to know."[9] The BBC, however, does not accept the public's right to know about the Lachmann connection. Its Editorial Standards Committee threw out the complaint.[10]

Postscript on GM bananas

In June 2008, the African Science News Service reported on the failure of the GM bananas project in Uganda. The bananas had fallen victim to Black Sigatoka disease, a disease which they had been engineered to resist.[11]

In April 2009 it was reported in the African press that the GM banana trial had violated biosafety regulations:

Uganda has violated an international environment convention that prohibits the leaking of confined live Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into the environment, a Sunday Monitor investigation has uncovered.
The leak of potentially hazardous bio-waste is being blamed on careless disposal practices by scientists at the National Agricultural Research Laboratory (NARL) in Kawanda, Wakiso District. The scientists disposed of parts of GMO banana bunches that were still under investigation into the open environment contrary to international regulations.
Birds, cats, rats and other living organisms have been seen on the dumping site, feeding and exposed to the GMOs, whose risk level has still not yet been ascertained as per the requirement of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture (FAO) recommended Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety guidelines.
The immediate risk is possible environmental contamination - with unknown implications for Uganda's banana crop -- if one of the banana suckers was illegally moved out of the institute and planted...
Sunday Monitor was told that the leakage was caused by casual labourers who now essentially conduct most of field monitoring work because the scientists are "busy attending workshops".
"There is a per diem fever here. The scientists are more interested in chasing sitting allowances [payments for attending meetings, seminars, workshops etc.] than doing their work," a source noted.

The article says that ultimate responsibility for the biosafety leak lay with the biotechnology supervisor, Dr Andrew Kiggundu, who is "directly in charge of the confinement facility". The article adds, "Dr Kiggundu declined to comment when contacted, saying as he was attending a meeting in Kampala."[12]


Check out the facts on GM at: http://www.banGMfood.org

A report on the science communication activities of the John Innes Centre is available at: http://ngin.tripod.com/biospin.htm

On the failure of the GM bananas: "Uganda GM banana fails to defeat diseases", ASNS, 18 June 2008, accessed January 2009


See Comment by GM Freeze on Jimmy's Food Fight

See Jimmy's GM Food Fix for a review by Jonathan Matthews, director of GM Watch, of the BBC Horizon programme (broadcast November 2008) Jimmy's GM Food Fight.


  1. See, for example, Comment by GM Freeze on Jimmy's Food Fight, press release, GM Freeze, 27 November 2008
  2. "PAN UK letter to BBC on Jimmy's GM Food Fight - Horizon, broadcast BBC2, Tuesday 25 November 2008", PAN UK, publicly released 17 January 2009.
  3. Background notes to the editorial standards committee: Horizon, Jimmy's GM Food Fight, BBC response to member of the public's complaint about bias of Jimmy's GM Food Fight, Horizon, BBC2, 25 November 2008, p. 31
  4. Background notes to the editorial standards committee: Horizon, Jimmy's GM Food Fight, BBC response to member of the public's complaint about bias of Jimmy's GM Food Fight, Horizon, BBC2, 25 November 2008, p. 31
  5. Laurie Flynn and Michael Sean Gillard, Pro-GM food scientist "threatened editor", The Guardian, 1 Nov 1999, accessed 18 Mar 2010
  6. Laurie Flynn and Michael Sean Gillard, Pro-GM food scientist "threatened editor", The Guardian, 1 Nov 1999, accessed 18 Mar 2010
  7. Background notes to the editorial standards committee: Horizon, Jimmy's GM Food Fight, BBC response to member of the public's complaint about bias of Jimmy's GM Food Fight, Horizon, BBC2, 25 November 2008, p. 31
  8. Horizon fails to say GM banana not working – BBC warned in advance of broadcast: Horizon fails to deliver balanced view, GM Freeze, 27 Nov 2008, accessed 18 Mar 2010
  9. Pusztai to receive Stuttgart Peace Prize, announcement archived on GM Watch website, 11 Dec 2009, accessed 18 Mar 2010
  10. Editorial standards findings, BBC, November 2009 issued December 2009, accessed 18 Mar 2010
  11. "Uganda GM banana fails to defeat diseases", ASNS, 18 June 2008, accessed January 2009
  12. Kikonyogo Ngatya, "Biosafety leak feared at Kawanda research station", Sunday Monitor, March 29 2009, accessed 2 April 2009