Anne Murcott (1999)
"Not science but PR": GM Food and the Makings of a Considered
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 3, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/3/murcott.html>
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Received: 22/9/1999 Accepted: 27/9/1999 Published: 30/9/1999
The investigator stood with his or her back to the heart of medicine and studied the 'social phenomena' surrounding it' (Casper and Berg 1995 quoted in Elston 1997:4).
(W)ho is posing the question and proposing an answer. Who are the agents? which social institutions are involved? which social groups or organisations? in whose name are they acting, with what purpose? what are the social processes at issue? And the questions extend still further: what are the materials, techniques and technologies being deployed? what is the nature of the knowledge which is being harnessed and to which appeal is being made? and which groups, organisations and social institutions have the power, the resources to accomplish enacting new definitions? In sum, the point of departure in developing this line of thought is indeed the social construction of realities. But now the concern is to examine the social processes of cultural and social constructions, the social forces that shape their form, provide for inventions, make for stability or propel toward change (Murcott 1999:314).
1) regulation, policy and political processes: 2) the manner in which food suppliers (whether in manufacturing, or distribution) construe, and operate in, the market; and 3) the place of applied science and technology (Murcott 1999:332).
Consumer Studies is an interdisciplinary subject which seeks to understand the relationship between consumers and the economic, technical, social and environmental forces which influence the development and consumption of goods and services (reprinted in CS&HE 1999)
2 A series of stickers appeared on posters, walls, lampposts etc in north London in early July 1999 urging attendance at a rally, protesting 'We're not swallowing GM foods'.
3eg 'How to avoid GM food' by Joanna Blythman (Fourth Estate) and 'GM Free: a Shopper's Guide to Genetically Modified Food' by Sue Dibb and Tim Lobstein (Virgin Books)
4'The Good Food Guide 1999' (1998) London: Which? pp 24-5, 20-31
5Ingram, D (1999) 'Engineering the future' 'The Garden: journal of the Royal Horticultural Society' vol 124 part 7 July 544-45
6'The Archers', Britain's longest running radio soap opera based on a farming dynasty, introduced a strong story-line revolving round the risk to an organic farmers' status from nearby fields of trial GM crops. A similar case had been heard in the Court of Appeal in 1998 (Barr 1998). The soap version is serving as a vehicle for airing a remarkably detailed and fully informed range of angles on the debate; notably including reference back to a report covered across the mass media (cf 'The Independent' May 20 1999) of the lethal risk posed to the Monarch butterfly of pollen from maize genetically engineered with Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (BT) pointing out, though, that the same toxin is used by organic farmers as a 'natural' pesticide. One of the programme's agricultural advisers is Graham Harvey, author of (1998) 'The Killing of the Countryside' London: Vintage.
8Adapted, presumably with some glee, in the headline 'M&S sells genetically modified Frankenpants' in an article carried on page 1 by 'The Independent on Sunday', July 18, 1999, reporting the use of GM cotton in underwear sold by Marks & Spencer who had not long before announced the withdrawal of GM ingredients from its own-brand food products.
9When, during the summer of 1999, the veteran and widely respected American (English born) journalist Alistair Cooke, in one of his weekly BBC Radio 4 broadcasts in his series 'Letter from America' which has been running for some four or five decades, commented on the manner in which the British and other Europeans seemed far more exercised about GM ingredients than were the Americans, he was fiercely taken to task by a furious correspondent to the listeners' comment programme 'Feedback' for being interfering, patronising and imperialist.
10Scrutiny of British broadsheet newspapers throughout 1999 will allow comparisons of reported public pronouncements of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods (MAFF), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department for the Environment (DFTE) which suggest they have not consistently been neatly aligned.
11 BBC Radio 4 'Farming Today' July 19 1999 report on risks to Britain's advantageous position in Europe as a leader in the 11,000 job biotechnology industry and a biotechnology scientists' 'brain drain'.
12Eg reproduced by 'The Times Higher' August 27 1999 p 15.
13 In the company of managers, executives and directors in manufacturing and retailing food companies; civil servants; spokespersons of the very large numbers of associations representing various sectors of the industry; lobbyists, activists, members of pressure groups and representatives of consumer associations; independent consultants to the industry and experts in the law, public relations, accountancy, sales and marketing, venture capital; scientists including toxicologists, food scientists, microbiologists, chemists, applied psychologists, economists, nutritionists, public health doctors and market researchers.
15A nostalgia either for a golden age of perfectly cooked omelette and a perfect glass of wine in a tranquil kitchen, whose portrayal is detached from, has obliterated even, the labour, the politics and the economics of their production, or for a near-Luddite repudiation of the modern and its distances between farmer and shopper, to hanker after a different myth of noble craft production close to the earth.
16 The title - 'The Sociology of Food and Eating' - of my own first edited collection (Murcott 1983) sought accurately to reflect that initial emphasis.
17And, possibly less and less frequently, eg DIY repairs and house decoration, as a cheaper alternative to buying services on the open market.
18Other than a kind of rescue effort akin to rescue archaeology.
19Another aspect is in terms of looks, allure, sense of self and well-being, more marginally construed in terms of health and welfare among medical professionals, health services and the state, more prominently the province of sport, fitness, weight reduction, fashion left much more to the market.
20 That the article is Irish not British is immaterial for the present discussion.
21Normally on sale/free to store account holders but for the issue in question, a complimentary accompaniment to 'The Observer'. I am grateful to Hilly Janes for drawing my attention to it and providing me with a copy.
22 Cf a 1939 definition of the consumers as those 'who buy for household or personal needs without the object of making money out of the use of the goods purchased' Dameron: 1978:21
23 It has yet to be established whether these are superseding, co-existing with or being treated in contrast to the term 'market research'.
24 A slim, 22 page A4 periodical, full-colour clearly and well designed and produced carrying short articles.
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