‘I was wrong about GMOs,’ environmentalist tells UK conference

Greg Henderson, 01/08/2013


Perhaps nothing is more telling about one’s intellect and character than changing one’s mind.

After all, changing your mind about something suggests you have given it thought and that maybe, just maybe, your first thoughts were incorrect.

Mark Lynas has given a lot of thought to genetically modified (GMO) corn. And he’s changed his mind.

Lynas, author of three books, including  Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, is generally recognized as one of the founders of the anti-GMO movement in the mid-1990s and a vocal critic of GM technology. He now says he was wrong.

Last week at the Oxford Farming Conference in the United Kingdom, Lynas delivered remarks that began with an astonishing apology

“For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid-1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment,” Lynas said.

“As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

“So, I guess you’ll all be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.”

That’s a startling admission from one who is at least partially responsible for many countries either banning or squelching GMO production and research. Unfortunately, the backlash against Lynas has been predictable. His website was crashed with comments from around the globe, mostly from critics. In short, he went from a founding father of the anti-GMO movement to a Benedict Arnold.

But that’s just a knee-jerk reaction from those who fail to read beyond the headlines of Lynas' apology. Certainly no one with Lynas' credentials and commitment to a cause as important as environmental activism would make such a reversal in ideology without careful consideration. Indeed, Lynas’ mind was changed by studying the facts about GMO and accepting the science. Here’s what he said:

“So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

“I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

“I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

“I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

“I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

“I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.”

Lynas’ embrace of peer-reviewed science is heartening for those of us hoping for a more logical and less emotional debate about agriculture on this side of the Atlantic.

“The GM debate is over,” Lynas said. “It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe…You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food.”




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