Anti-GMO Leader Asks Forgiveness for Unscientific Crusade

Published April 10, 2013

Mark Lynas, a longtime vocal leader of the anti-biotechnology movement, acknowledged at a farming conference he has unjustly demonized biotechnology and was wrong to oppose genetic crop improvements.

Lynas helped create the anti-biotechnology movement in the 1990s and spent more than a decade sowing public fear about genetically modified crops.

Admits ‘Demonizing’ Technology
At a January Oxfam Farming Conference, Lynas said he was wrong to “demonize” biotechnology that “can be used to benefit the environment.”

“I want to start with some apologies,” said Lynas. “For the record, here and upfront, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM [genetically modified] crops.”

“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 counterproductive path. I now regret it completely,” Lynas explained.

Biotechnology Successes
Biotechnology and genetic crop improvements have expanded the quality and quantity of food to impoverished nations, agricultural economist Dennis Avery notes. Avery, who served as an agriculture analyst for the U.S. Department of State and wrote a landmark agricultural evaluation for the President’s National Advisory Commission on Food and Fiber, said real-world benefits from biotechnology enable farmers to feed more people than at any time in human history.

“Lynas has done his fair share to arrest the development of newer technologies that save lives and wildlife habitat,” Avery said, “but he’ll lose credibility with the anti-GMO crowd” now that he is repenting his anti-biotechnology activism.

Avery notes farmers have utilized bioengineering and cross-hybridization for hundreds of years. Modern technology allows the process to be done in a controlled situation in laboratory conditions. The results are not only more precise but more effective. For example, the development of Bt corn through controlled genetic modification enables corn to produce its own natural insecticide to fight off insects without harming humans and the environment. The use of Bt corn means farmers spray fewer insecticides.

“Anti-biotechnology activists have caused mass starvation in Third World nations by denying people access to genetically improved crops,” Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, told Environment & Climate News.

“Environmental activists block people in Third World nations from having access to food, causing malnutrition and starvation, while at the same time claiming they are doing so in the best interests of the starving people. This asserted logic makes no sense and only serves to worsen the plight of people facing food shortages in Third World nations,” Rucker explained. “It is time for a more common sense approach to environmentalism and human welfare.”

Land Conservation Benefits
The Nobel Prize-winning scientist Norman Borlaug, known as the father of the “Green Revolution,” encouraged the use of biotechnology and scientific development to bring more crops and nutrition to more people around the world. 

“I think Lynas came to the realization a bit late,” said Avery. “I have long estimated that Borlaug’s Green Revolution saved perhaps the land area of South America from being plowed down for more low-yield crops.”

Avery cited a recent study by Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University who estimated high yields made possible from biotechnology have saved twice the land area of South America.

“We are gratified by Lynas’ recognition that saving wildlands is the greatest boon that humans can offer the environment,” Avery added.

“Unfortunately,” said Avery, “the denunciation of GMOs that save human populations and wildlife has wasted time and valuable resources and will inflict years more of waste and inaction on these real remedies.”

‘Became a Better Environmentalist’
Lynas said science put him on a more truthful path.

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

Jeff Edgens, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is an assistant professor of political science at East Georgia State College and an adjunct scholar with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.