Among the opponents of genetically modified crops, Mark Lynas stood out as among the most vocal and the most strident. He’s widely recognized as one of the founders of the real anti-GMO movement, long proclaiming that GMOs threatened people’s health and the planet’s future. Now, he says he was wrong.
What he actually said, at the recent Oxford Farming Conference, was, “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.”
Lynas said his mind was changed after he studied the science of GMOs and learned that his assumptions were incorrect.
“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 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 concluded his remarks by saying, “The GM debate is over,” but, perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone agrees.
Among many of his former fellow-travelers, the debate has been reinvigorated by Lynas’ about-face.
For example, the editor of Earth Island Journal, Jason Mark, wrote a rebuttal: “First, the contention that plantings of genetically engineered crops have led to a decreased insecticide usage. Actually, the record is more mixed than Lynas makes it seem... A peer-reviewed study published last year in Environmental Sciences Europe found that GM plantings in the United States led to a 7 percent increase in chemical praying.
“Lynas’ cherry-picking also misses a crucial fact: Farmers who have grown accustomed to using Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops are starting to see the appearance of weeds that are resistant to glyphosate, the central ingredient in Roundup. To help farmers cope with the new ‘super weeds,’ Monsanto has launched a new herbicide, Warrant. So much for the claim that GMOs will reduce chemical use.”
Anti-GMO scientists are also jumping into the fray, disputing Lynas’ contentions about the safety of GMOs. John Vandermeer, a University of Michigan biology professor, wrote at FoodFirst.org of Lynas’ scientific awakening, “[Lynas] will discover that a bunch of scientific studies have linked glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) to endocrine disruption, and he will come to realize that endocrine disruption can sometimes have negative consequences, things like birth defects and cancer...”
While Lynas is embraced by some and critiqued by others, here in this country, GMOs took a step forward in December, when the AquAdvantage salmon — a genetically modified fish that grows twice as fast as other salmon — got another approval from the FDA. The organization decided that, under the specific conditions proposed in the fish’s application (e.g., being raised in tanks in Panama), these fish would not have a significant impact on the environment. Should the salmon make it all the way to U.S. supermarket shelves, it would be the first genetically modified animal to do so. This news is being vigorously protested among many environmentalists, suggesting the GM debate is not, in fact, over.