GM Free Cymru

More nonsense on farmers' attitudes to GM crops

Date Added to website 9th July 2013

Is it really true that 61% of UK farmers would be happy to grow GM crops if they were available? In short, no.

Do we ever get to see honest polls and surveys these days? It seems not -- at any rate, not when a questionnaire has anything to do with farmers and GM crops. Recently the Farmer's Weekly Interactive web site ran a poll designed to test farmer's attitudes to GM crops (1). It was quite strictly controlled, and a number of people who tried to fill in the online questionnaire were screened out or prevented from doing so. So we do not know what internal manipulation of the survey there might have been, even though it was apparently conducted by a Reed Business Insight Research team, who are members of the UK Market Research Society. Does that guarantee that there was a lack of bias? It seems not. Bear in mind the following:

1. Farmers Weekly journal has a long history of promoting the GM agenda in the farming world. For example, it was heavily involved in the notorious "Lynas Affair" -- giving copious and considerably unbalanced coverage to the speech made by Lynas at the Oxford Farming Conference in January this year, and flagging him up as a "victim" of a hate campaign by the anti-GM movement. More evidence of pro-GM coverage is here, for example (2). Farmers Weekly does carry some articles critical of GM, and claims that it has a neutral stance on the issue, but the clear impression remains that overall the journal reflects very closely the NFU "authorised" policy on most things, including GM. On that basis alone, there has to be a suspicion of bias, and it has to be assumed that the journal would be more likely to welcome a pro-GM survey result than one demonstrating antipathy towards GM crops and foods.

2. The research team which conducted the poll for Farmers Weekly Interactive was from Reed Business Insight, a subsidiary of Reed Business Information Ltd -- the publishers of the journal! So there is no way that this poll could be claimed to be "independent" and run by a specialist polling organization. Furthermore, high-profile publicity (and funding?) for the poll came from Barclay's Bank Agricultural Business section (3), which has strong links with the "agribusiness sector" which is much more likely to invest in GM than the average small farmer in the UK. The bank also commissioned a separate YouGov survey of consumer attitudes to GM, the results of which were presented at Livestock 2013 event. (The bank flagged up the fact that according to this survey of 2,301 people there was great consumer resistance to GM crops and foods.)

3. In the event 625 "independent farmers" filled in the online poll, the results of which were published in June 2013 here: The survey is powerfully biased because all of the respondents were Farmers Weekly readers and not randomly selected farmers from the UK farming population. A sample of 625 self-selected journal subscribers is not a basis for testing the attitudes of the UK population of c 350,000 farmers. It may reasonably be assumed that those motivated enough to complete the online survey were inclined towards GM technology, reflecting the broad bias of the journal: and this is confirmed when we see that the average farm size of respondents was 269 ha. This means that "big farmers" were strongly represented; the average size of farms in England is about 50 ha and in Wales about 40 ha (4). It would be interesting to see the full distribution of farm sizes across the survey; but this information has not been published.

Without even examining the results of the farming survey, we can say that the results should be dismissed as irrelevant because of the powerful bias running through the whole exercise. The survey was possibly slightly more reliable than the corrupt survey (5) conducted by the Open University with ESRC funding in 2008, which led to banner headlines about UK farmers attitudes to GM in spite of the fact that there were, in that case, only 30 self-selecting respondents!

That having been said, there has to be grave concern about the manner in which Barclay's Bank (which should know a thing or two about statistics and percentages) has used the data from the new FWI poll. In its own banner headline in its press release it declared that "61% of British farmers happy to grow GM crops....." knowing full well that that sort of statement was a wild and irresponsible exaggeration based on very flimsy and biased "evidence". It also knew that the press release would be picked up by much of the media, and again that is a cause for concern. Then things got even worse. The bank said in the body of the text that one in five (19%) of farmers in the UK say that the biggest advantage of GM crops is reduced environmental impact. That is a completely false percentage. If one looks at the raw survey results (6), one sees that the answer was given by 19% of those who were broadly in favour of GM crops -- not by 19% of all respondents. The report goes on to say that 16% of farmers say that GM would put them on a level playing field with farmers overseas who are already growing GM crops. That again is false. This was NOT the view of 16% of all respondents, but 16% of those favourably disposed towards GM. That means that only 72 out of the 625 farmers (11%) favoured GM on the grounds of environmental impact, and only 60 farmers (less than 10%) of farmers favoured GM on competitive grounds. Sloppy reporting indeed. One would have expected more care from an august organization like Barclays Bank.

We have pointed out to Barclays Bank the error of its ways, and we await a response. Will it issue a corrected version of the document? We doubt it -- large organizations do not like to admit to their incompetence or bias.

But what this all means is that the statement that 61% of British farmers would be happy to grow GM crops if they were available to them is utter nonsense, having been conjured up out of a small and biased survey which has been poorly analysed and irresponsibly reported.






In the UK there are approximately 300,000 active farms with an average size of around 57 hectares, much larger than the European average size of approximately 20 hectares. However the UK's high average size is swelled by the impact of Scotland where the average farm size is over 100 hectares. In England average size is around 50 hectares. For Wales and Northern Ireland, sizes are smaller at around 40 hectares. Despite the relatively large number of farms in the UK, the majority of the agricultural area is farmed by a much smaller number of farmers. Some 41,000 farms (~14% of the total) are larger than 100 hectares and account for over 65% of the agricultural area. (This means that 86% of farms in the UK are under 100 ha.) There were 152,000 full time farmers with a further 198,000 part-timer owners engaged in some capacity in the farm business. (2006). So approx 350,000 farmers......


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