As one of the original GM test-plot destroyers in the 1990s, Mark Lynas had convinced himself he was helping save the world from the evils of “Frankenfoods.” By his own admission, Lynas spurred the anti-GMO movement that led governments around the world—especially in Western Europe, Asia, and Africa—to hobble GM research and even outlaw the use of the crops.
But in a stunning about-face in 2013, Lynas apologized to the Oxford (United Kingdom) Farming Conference for his anti-GMO activism: “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 what led Lynas to change his mind? “Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science.”
By his own admission, Lynas and most of his colleagues in the anti-GMO movement were well-meaning zealots who had not studied the science, but were rabid in their convictions based solely on prejudice and superstition.
Lynas’ about-face on GMOs was a life-changing event, he says, causing him to spend the last five years seeking ways to mend the damage. This year he told the Oxford Farming Conference he’s “devoted myself pretty much full time to the GMO issue.”
After visiting numerous countries in Africa and Asia and meeting farmers, scientists and activists, Lynas has become even more convinced his support of technology is well-founded.
“It is very clear, for instance, that insect-resistant crops have helped reduce applications of insecticide,” he says. “Although they have yet to be proven at scale, nitrogen-efficient crops, from oilseed rape to rice, could help reduce fertilizer applications. Perhaps one day we’ll even see staple non-leguminous crops that fix their own nitrogen.”
Lynas also says it is clear the adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops has helped shift farming away from more toxic herbicides and facilitated no-till and conservation agriculture. He also admits his previous anti-GMO activism helped block the use of genetic engineering “precisely where it could do the most good, in developing countries.”
Lynas also blasts Greenpeace for its recent report that GMOs have been met with Twenty Years of Failure. He says it’s not a failure of the science, but any failure is due to the success of groups like Greenpeace in campaigning against GMOs.
“In my view you can’t campaign both against problems and against solutions and expect to be taken seriously,” he says of Greenpeace.
Next week, Lynas’ new book will be released that explores the technology and how it can help change the world’s food system. “Seeds of Science: How We Got It So Wrong About GMOs” examines the histories of the people and companies who pioneered GMOs. He also explains why he left the anti-GMO movement, and how he is currently tackling poverty by using genetic modification to encourage better harvests.
In a review of “Seeds of Science,” The Washington Post wrote the book, “tells the [GMO] story from a unique perspective. The logic of Lynas’ conversion is an implicit challenge to both the American right and the left.”