REPORT: Does the BBC help cultivate a pro-GMO agenda in the UK?

From the executive summary

A recent BBC Panorama programme, entitled GM Food – Cultivating Fear, suggested that opposition to GMOs is “morally unacceptable” and that those who oppose GMOs are prone to “making things up” instead of relying on facts and sound science.

BGM BBC Report

Click to download the report

In the days following the programme there was considerable criticism about its narrative and the way that it framed the issues in support of a particular and partial point of view.

It was in this context that Beyond GM endeavoured to provide a space, however limited, for broader public comment by undertaking a survey and gathering comments which explores the views of an informed public.

At the heart of this enquiry were some very basic questions: Does the BBC help cultivate a pro-GM agenda in the UK? and How adequately and respectfully are public concerns about genetic modification in food and farming represented by the BBC?

The survey was conducted online between 8th and 13th June 2015. There were 1000 respondents; 49.3% men and 50.6% women, and with an age spread typical of that of the UK as a whole.

Respondents were made up of individuals from both sides of the GMO debate and represented a spectrum from those who believe that GMOs are necessary and beneficial to those who believe that GMOs are unnecessary and risky. Within this spectrum there was also a ‘middle ground’; those who felt GMOs were either ‘potentially beneficial’ or ‘potentially harmful’. This group represented around 20% of respondents.

Looking at the survey answers from the perspective of these different spectrums turned up some interesting answers. In brief the findings of the survey were that:

  • 65% of respondents feel there is a general pro-GM bias in the British media; 58.6% of those in the ‘middle ground’ agreed.
  • The BBC in general, and Panorama in particular, is seen as the most biased pro-GM media outlet by far
  • 72% of all respondents feel the BBC represents a pro-GM stance. 65% of respondents who occupied the ’middle ground’ believe the BBC has a pro-GM stance
  • 66% of all respondents and 57% in the ‘middle ground’ subgroup did not trust experts featured on BBC programmes.
  • 87% of all respondents feel that people the BBC interview as “independent experts in science and technology” should reveal their sources of funding, corporate affiliations and if they hold patents; 88% of those in the ‘middle ground’ expressed this opinion
  • 70% of all respondents and 64% of the ‘middle ground’ do not believe that the BBC adequately or respectfully reflects the public’s concerns about GMOs

Open surveys like this one can bring together the views of a knowledgeable group of people who are able to articulate their views more fully. It is a matter of judgement as to how far these views resonate amongst the wider public.

We are, however, confident that the results are not out of line with previously published open and random survey results (see Some Context – Previous Public Surveys, page 18) and may even be a significant addition to the literature on public views on GMOs.


  • The press release for the report can be found here.