Growers' scientific language lacks impact of media-savvy single-issue groups

Growers are losing out to media-savvy environmentalists in a propaganda war that can hinge on one emotive word, according to a leading academic.

Wyn Grant said the emphasis on stolid scientific, evidence-based policy was contrasted by snappy 24-hour media, hungry for scandal and visual impact.

Single-issue groups and their "emotive" language often snatched the headlines even when a scientific case was strong, he told the biopesticide conference last week.

"We need to communicate our case more effectively to a much broader audience," said Grant, a professor of politics and an environmental expert at the University of Warwick. He said media language consisted of "boo" and "hurrah" words that could swing debates. Scientific words often fell into the negative boo category, so the sector had to learn "which buttons to press".

Key words and images included "sustainability", which implied economic and environmental health. The industry could play up the small firms that made up most of the sector, because these had positive associations with technology-pioneering people-focused businesses.

"However, in recession many people tend to lose focus on the environmental agenda and think about how to return to economic growth or reduce the public debt. This is not an easy time to push the green dimension," Grant added.

But HRI microbiologist Dave Chandler said: "Environmental groups will find themselves in a bind. They want less-intensive agriculture and land put out of production and given over to wildlife. But we can't do that in future, we have to massively increase production. I don't think they have really thought about the issues in any great detail. The challenge is to increase food production and preserve biodiversity.

"There's an opportunity for growers to take a lead and say we need more production but we can also make room for nature. Biopesticides and integrated pest management are part of that."

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