Hungry, Hungry Australians

The News Surrounding Our GM Foods

When it comes to genetically modified foods in Australia, it seems that both farmers and consumers alike don’t quite like the idea of the Simpsons’ three-eyed fish as our next Sunday roast. However, it’s worth a look at how Australia’s media is showing us the debate towards GM foods.

Genetically modified (GM) materials have had changes to their DNA through genetic engineering, in order to produce or enhance features within the material. This is away from selective or mutation breeding in livestock and crops.

The Food Standards Code has two provisions for GM foods: compulsory pre-market approval (including food safety assessments) and compulsory labelling requirements. These standards ensure that only pre-approved GM foods enter Australia’s food supply.

However, the public and organisations such as Greenpeace and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) have taken a public stand against genetic modification in Australia. Their argument being that using “toxic chemicals” inside the proteins of foods highly jeopardises the health of the consumer. To counteract, “organic” and “anti-GM” foods have gained popularity, giving consumers the choice against GM – despite the higher price-tag.

It would seem that articles aimed at audiences inside cities are setting the agenda to scare – or rather, persuade – consumers to “vote-with-their dollar” with GM foods for the fear of health risks. Whereas, rural newspapers are reporting on issues that are trying to either produce GM foods or organic stock as a viable solution for the government’s “need” for exporting and the hungry, hungry Australians.

This can be found through data analysis from 1,000 articles over the past ten years from all Australian newspapers focusing on GM foods – which resulted in a confusing graphic such as this:

Visual generated using Leximancer, with 1,000 Westlaw results from the keywords “GM” and “Genetically Modified” inside Australian newspapers since 2006. (Conducted inside UQ as part of JOUR3290 Portfolio 2, 29 April 2016).


This Leximancer visual collates keywords surrounding the issue of “genetically modified” foods. If you’ll notice, concepts around GM remain with farmers, science, agriculture, the government, and to a smaller extent, cancer – with predominantly negative words such as “anti”, “debate”,  and “fight”.

At first glance, these keywords found aren’t that astounding. It isn’t a secret that GM is feared to be a cause to cancer, with researchers discovering more sustainable options in livestock and crops. We also see words such as Steve Marsh and Kojonup appearing, referencing to the widely publicised appeal to stop Monstanto’s GM Canola production in February 2016.

The interesting idea that this graphic brings, is where rural and metropolitan newspapers sit in this debate.

Note, example rural papers such as Rural Weekly North and the Stock Journal hug around the concepts of agriculture, crops, and appealing. Whereas, metropolitan papers such as MX Sydney and the Australian Financial Review hover towards research, cancer, the government, and food. This is understandable, considering that metropolitan newspapers’ audience are largely the consumers of Australia’s food supply rather than the suppliers themselves.

Looking closer, we can also see articles referring to GM foods saying, “The general public needs to be well informed about the science underpinning issues such as crop biotechnology” (, 2015).


Feature cartoon: “Eat More Horse!” by Kemii, 2012©


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