Somewhat to the discomfort of his green
comrades-in-arms, British activist Mark Lynas has been evolving in
his views on various environmental issues lately. For example,
Lynas now admits that he was wrong when declared that biotech crops
posed significant risks to people and the natural world. In a
speech delivered yesterday at the Oxford Farming Conference
I want to start with some apologies. 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 demonising an
important technological option which can be used to benefit the
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 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.
Discovered science? Well, better late than never. Lynas goes on
…in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking
the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on
the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t
think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant
science even at this late stage.
Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me
were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian
article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to
GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you
also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big
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
I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It
turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less
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
But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish
and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do
plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.
To some extent this old news. Last year, I wrote a column
reviewing Lynas’ new book,
The God Species, in which I welcomed him to the
Community.” If only somehow we could get Lynas’ fellow
activists to actually read science and
accept the broad scientific consensus on the safety of biotech