Biotech Bias on the Editorial and Opinion Pages of Major United States Newspaper
This is the report of an investigation of possible bias concerning the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods, on the opinion pages of some of the largest and most influential newspapers and weekly newsmagazines which circulate and are ‘opinion-leaders’ in the United States. A search was made to find all opinion pieces over a two-year period - from September 1999 through August 2001 - in the The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post...
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Biotech Bias on the Editorial and Opinion Pages of Major United States Newspapers and News Magazines
Written and researched by Nick Parker, Media Coordinator, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy 
This is the report of an investigation of possible bias concerning the issue of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods, on the opinion pages of some of the largest and most influential newspapers and weekly newsmagazines which circulate and are ‘opinion-leaders’ in the United States. A search was made to find all opinion pieces over a two-year period - from September 1999 through August 2001 - in the The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Houston Chronicle, Newsday (New York, NY), The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, and The Economist. A total of 669 articles on genetically modified crops and foods were found.Of this total, 72 could be classified as ‘opinion’ rather than ‘news’ pieces. Of these, 32 were editorials and 38 were op-eds (opinion pieces by authors other than the editorial boards of the periodicals under consideration).We found a four to one (81.58% to 18.4!
2 %) ratio of opinion pieces favoring genetically modified crops and foods compared to those opposing them or taking a generally critical stance. In the process of conducting the investigation we also categorized the editorial position of these publications, and found them to be uniformly supportive of GM crops and foods, and we examined the arguments they utilize to bolster their support.
We found that all of the arguments could be grouped into several general categories, as follows:
- GM crops are good for the environment, or biotech will create a world free of pesticides.
-We must accept GM crops and foods if we are to feed the poor in the Third World, because they offer the best way to boost the productivity of agriculture.
- There are no viable alternatives to GM crops and foods.
- GM crops are here to stay, so we should just accept them.
- The public already accepts GM, so what is all the fuss about?
- Trust scientists, they know best.
These in fact are, by and large, the same arguments used by the biotechnology industry in their advertising campaigns. We were very disturbed to find an overwhelming lack of attention to widely expressed doubts concerning these arguments. Such concerns include:
- GM crops in and of themselves may represent significant risks to the environment. In addition, the reduction of insecticide use in so-called ‘Bt-crops’ may be short-lived, and herbicide-tolerant crops are likely to lead to increased, rather than decreased use of pesticides.
- The productivity-enhancing potential of GM crops may be greatly overstated, in fact for some crops, like soybeans, there is evidence for depression of yields.Furthermore, GM crops may be unlikely to be appropriate for, adopted by, or useful for, poor farmers in the Third World.
- A significant body of research exists which demonstrates the proven potential - to boost productivity, protect the environment and address hunger - of alternatives in the realms of integrated pest management (IPM), sustainable agriculture, agroecology, policy reform, etc. This potential in many cases may be greater than that of GM crops and foods.
- There are potential health-risks of GM foods for consumers, which may not have been adequately evaluated before the approval of these products.
Summaries of these arguments may be found at: http://www.foodfirst.org/progs/global/ge/
Taken together, the results of this investigation lead us to a real concern that the news media is playing a biased role in opinion formation. Rather than taking a balanced view of facts and arguments for both pro- and con-positions on the issue of GM foods and crops, the media appears to follow the lead of industry advertising and public relations in a lock-step fashion. This, we believe, is a significant disservice to the American public, who in the end, are the ones who must make the key decisions, through the democratic process, concerning the future of these controversial technologies.
Read the whole report at:
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