DeSmog

Revealed: The Climate Denial Network Behind ‘Classic Astroturf’ Farmers’ Campaign

Producers say ‘No Farmers, No Food’ is a populist initiative that serves to “whip up indignation and anger”.
Tractors line the streets of Brussels as farmers' protests sweep Europe. Credit: Rachel Sherrington

A network of climate science deniers has been accused of “hijacking” rural concerns over a new social media campaign “to save the farming industry”. 

‘No Farmers, No Food’ has gained over 50,000 followers on X in the fortnight since its launch, which was framed as a response to the widespread farmers’ protests sweeping across Europe.

The campaign, which started in the UK, has rapidly won support from a number of international pundits, from Canadian climate science denier Jordan Peterson, to Fox News contributor and host Tomi Lahren, who has called climate change a “hoax”. Populist politicians in the UK and elsewhere have also declared their support. 

Conspiracy theorists have jumped to support the social media account, which has boosted false claims about people being forced by the World Economic Forum to “eat bugs”.

The campaign has expressed scepticism around climate targets, claiming that “Farming is being sacrificed on the altar of net zero.”

Sporting a distinctive black and yellow tractor logo, the campaign’s hashtag trended on X a week after its launch on 23 January. Its founder James Melville told DeSmog that the campaign, which claims to represent the voices of farmers, plans to target national and local legislation on issues like pricing and food security as well as “aspects of net zero”.

James Melville is a PR consultant who has appeared as an anti-lockdown campaigner on right-wing broadcaster TalkTV and a farming commentator on GB News. A former journalist who grew up on a livestock and arable farm, he said he started the campaign to put “pressure on governments to help farmers … and shape the messages that will build public support”. 

“I think it’s time for a national debate on climate and net zero,” Melville told DeSmog. The campaign is due to launch a new mission statement in the coming days.

Scientific consensus on human-caused climate change is equivalent to that on evolution

The UK’s legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 is part of an international effort to limit global warming to 1.5 C. Food production accounts for around a quarter of global emissions. 

But while Melville’s campaign claims to speak for farmers, arable and livestock farmer Joe Stanley says the initiative does not represent his industry.

“There is massive discontent in the farming community,” he said. “But this does not seem to be a farmer-generated movement.”

“Populism whips up indignation and anger,” Stanley added. “That is what ‘No Farmers, No Food’ is doing, clearly with the hope of creating a wider movement as we’ve seen in Ireland and Holland.”

Journalist Peter Geoghegan, author of ‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’, said that ‘No Farmers, No Food’ had “all the hallmarks of a classic astroturf campaign” – a supposedly ‘grassroots’ campaign that provides a front for political or commercial interests. 

“As we can see here you don’t need any grassroots support to be able to push an agenda straight into the media and the political system,” he said.

James Melville denied that the campaign was a front for political interests, adding that ‘No Farmers, No Food’ was “non-partisan”. “I welcome all sides of the debate,” he said.

‘Ride the Wave of Discontent’ 

Farmers protesting in Europe have raised a wide range of issuesincluding volatile prices, cuts to farm subsidies and threats from cheap imports, as well as concerns about climate and environmental regulations. 

As tractors blockade motorways and cities in Ireland, Belgium, Romania, France, Germany, Lithuania, Greece, Poland and the Netherlands, critics fear that far-right and populist groups are hijacking issues to galvanise support for their own agendas. 

A number of influential right-wing pundits have backed the ‘No Food, No Farmers’ campaign  – among them multiple presenters from British broadcaster GB News, which frequently attacks climate science and policies. A 2023 DeSmog investigation found that one in three GB News hosts spread climate denial on air.

In an interview with the channel last month about the farmer protests in Germany, James Melville told presenter Neil Oliver: “Governments are implementing draconian net zero measures, it’s almost impossible for farmers to make some sort of profit.”

Oliver, who is known for spreading conspiracy theories, has also shared the campaign graphic with his almost 400,000 followers, writing: “No farmers, no food. That’s a fact. Full support.” 

The presenter last year called “the green agenda … a hellish potpourri of policies guaranteed to condemn hundreds of millions to death”.

A number of other GB News presenters, including Bev Turner and Tonia Buxton, have also tweeted their support for the campaign. Turner in 2022 warned of “green issue propaganda” being used to curb people’s freedoms. 

GB News is co-owned by British hedge fund millionaire Paul Marshall, who has £1.8 billion invested in fossil fuels through his firm Marshall Wace. The outlet’s other major shareholder is Dubai-based investment firm Legatum Group, which backs a group called the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship that has several prominent climate deniers on its board, including Jordan Peterson. 

The campaign has also been covered by Farming Today on BBC Radio 4, which interviewed Melville, as well as a farmer who was critical of the campaign.

Melville told DeSmog that he could not “control the individuals who will align themselves to this campaign” but aimed to appeal to those across the political spectrum. 

The campaign was not currently funded, he said, and was consulting with farmers. He declined to name the individuals involved.

Farmer Joe Stanley told DeSmog that farmers had not been “appropriately supported” to make a just transition.

“The vast majority do believe in climate change and that farming can deliver on sustainable, nature-friendly food,” he said.

“The political extreme always thinks they can ride the wave of discontent for their own interest,” he added. “I do not want to see support for the industry get degraded as it is hijacked by individuals who do not have farmers’ interests at heart.”

Campaign Aims

‘No Farmers, No Food’ has so far revealed few details about its preferred tactics or long-term aims. Asked whether it was looking to emulate Europe’s protests, Melville told DeSmog that it was “not the job” of ‘No Farmers, No Food’ to call for widespread demonstrations. 

While it is yet to finalise a mission statement or manifesto, Melville said that key issues would likely include subsidies for farmers, low produce prices and “layers of bureaucracy, legislation, red tape on aspects of net zero”.

‘No Farmers, No Food’ is named after a hashtag that has been widely used to support protests in Germany, as well as previous demonstrations in Canada, India and the Netherlands. 

In an interview on TNT Radio, Melville said the campaign would “call out some of the NGO agendas”. He told DeSmog that he believed “corporate elites, senior figures in NGOs, and the government are not in keeping with the concerns of the public.”

The campaign regularly features videos from celebrity farmer and YouTuber Gareth Wyn Jones, who has almost two million subscribers on his YouTube channel and is a regular guest on GB News

Wyn Jones has featured on BBC programmes including Countryfile and The Family Farm and has criticised environmentalists. In an interview on GB News, he warned that European protests could spread to the UK. 

It also regularly shares videos of former Top Gear presenter and farmer Jeremy Clarkson about difficulties in the industry.

‘No Farmers, No Food’ has also received backing from the anti-lockdown campaign group #together, which is currently running a petition against net zero and has campaigned against the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ). Melville sits on the Together cabinet.

UK Amplifiers

As right-wing parties in Europe scramble to align themselves with the farmer protests, ‘No Farmers, No Food’ has gained backing from a number of politicians from populist parties in the UK.  

So far, UK producers have not joined the wave of farmers protests, but trade magazine Farmers Weekly reported in early February that a number of groups are considering demonstrating. 

In early February, Andrew Bridgen, an independent MP who was affiliated to the Reclaim Party until December after being suspended from the Conservatives in January 2023, repeated the campaign hashtag in Parliament. He told MPs, “‘No Farmers, No Food’ is being translated and understood in many languages.”

“Can we have an urgent debate in government time on UK farming, UK food production and UK food security, before our own farmers start taking direct action?” he said. 

Posting on X in support of the campaign, Bridgen shared a video arguing that “climate change is a power grab” to control the food supply and force lab grown food on people.

Reform UK’s candidate for London mayor Howard Cox has publicly denied climate science, saying in November: “It is arrogant to think that we, as human beings, can make any difference to this planet.” He wrote on X that he was campaigning with the group, adding, “It’s time [for] … all the #netzero BS be replaced with common sense pragmatic solutions to protecting our vital food supply chain.” 

In an emailed statement, Cox told DeSmog he supported the campaign in his capacity as director of FairFuelUK “because of the high cost of vehicle fuel here in the UK farmers have to pay”. The group lobbies to cut fuel duty and has frequently cast doubt on the health impacts of air pollution.  

“This campaign has NO connection with the Reform UK Party,” Cox added.

The initiative has also been amplified online by Lois Perry, leader of the climate science denial group CAR26. Perry recently announced that she would be running for leader of UKIP.

Gareth Wyn Jones, Lois Perry, Andrew Bridgen, Jordan Peterson, Neil Oliver, Bev Turner and Tonia Buxton did not respond to requests for comment. GB News also did not respond. 

Pushing Conspiracy Theories

‘No Farmers, No Food’ has also promoted a conspiracy theory about climate policies as a cover for removing people’s freedoms. 

On 28 January, ‘No Farmers, No Food’ shared a post from former LBC host Maajid Nawaz, who has half a million followers on X, stating “Farmers stand between us and WEF’s desire for us to “EAT BUGS, own nothing and be happy.” 

The post appears to refer to a conspiracy theory known as the ‘Great Reset’ which suggests that the World Economic Forum (WEF) is using a non-existent climate crisis to control world food supplies, with the aim of imposing a global socialist government. 

As well as being a well-known protest hashtag, ‘No Farmers, No Food’ was the title of a 2023 film about the conspiracy theory. 

On his personal account, Melville shared a post in support of his campaign from Monica Crowley, assistant secretary for public affairs for the U.S. Department of the Treasury under Donald Trump, which stated, “Farmers across Europe are mass protesting the globalists trying to crush them. Between Bill Gates, the CCP & the WEF, we’re going to have no private farmland left. They want you eating bugs.”

Conspiracy theorists claim that Gates and the WEF are using climate regulations on farms to enable large-scale land grabs. 

Misinformation and conspiracy theories have already had a significant impact in Europe, plaguing debates in the Netherlands over recent years about how to reduce illegal levels of nitrate pollution. 

“I want the public to be informed by all sides of the debate,” Melville told DeSmog. “Sometimes what’s considered a conspiracy theory, six months down the track actually becomes an [actual political] agenda.”

Farmer Joe Stanley told DeSmog that traction for the conspiracy theories among farmers were due to a high level of concern felt by people in the industry. 

“Not enough is being done to address the farmers’ grievances if farmers are starting to think that these are sensible or reasonable arguments to take up,” he said.

Additional research by Joey Grostern

Clare Carlile headshot cropped
Clare is a Researcher at DeSmog, focusing on the agribusiness sector. Prior to joining the organisation in July 2022, she was Co-Editor and Researcher at Ethical Consumer Magazine, where she specialised in migrant workers’ rights in the food industry. Her work has been published in The Guardian and New Internationalist.
Adam Barnett - new white crop
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
Phoebe Cooke headshot - credit Laura King Photography
Phoebe joined DeSmog in 2020. She is currently co-deputy editor and was previously the organisation's Senior Reporter.

Related Posts

The nascent Orka movement has gained access to the president after vowing to toss the EU’s Green Deal “in the trash”.

The nascent Orka movement has gained access to the president after vowing to toss the EU’s Green Deal “in the trash”.
Opinion
on

Far-right gains in the EP would strengthen efforts to undermine Europe's Green Deal.

Far-right gains in the EP would strengthen efforts to undermine Europe's Green Deal.
on

The Together Declaration spurred a wave of “disinformation” around anti-pollution schemes, new report finds.

The Together Declaration spurred a wave of “disinformation” around anti-pollution schemes, new report finds.
on

The company’s carbon footprint is equivalent to over 16 coal fired power stations each year.

The company’s carbon footprint is equivalent to over 16 coal fired power stations each year.