A Rare Reversal Among GMO Activists

1/19/2013 7:00 AM
By Margaret Gates Regional Editor

I n a reversal that once would have seemed as unlikely as Mothers Against Drunk Driving promoting beer at the prom, the environmental activist who helped launch the anti-GMO movement announced earlier this month that he was wrong — genetically modified crops are actually a good thing.

Now, that’s one giant oopsie.

Mark Lynas told a gathering at the Oxford Farming Conference that he was sorry for demonizing GM technology and literally ripping GM crops out of the ground.

“I discovered science and in the process, I hope, I am becoming a better environmentalist,” he said.

In a nutshell, after years of using science to support his views on climate change, Lynas decided to look at the science of agriculture as it related to GMOs.

Wow, now there’s a concept — thoroughly investigating something before forming an opinion.

What he says he discovered is that all the fears he helped perpetuate about GMOs as Frankenstein foods were actually “green urban myths” and that GMOs are an important, and safe, scientific tool to help feed the world’s growing population.

Lynas’ comments likely will please many GMO supporters, who will feel validated by his admission, and anger many anti-GMO activists, who will feel betrayed by his abrupt about-face.

But for the level-headed among us, the Mark Lynas story should be a wake-up call — not to support or condemn GMOs, but to learn as much as we can about an issue before passing judgment.

Lynas’ admission surely must have been a difficult one. And for him to make it on a public stage is admirable.

What is not admirable is the way he managed to demonize a technology and rally countless others to his cause, without ever fully researching the issue.

The point is not whether you think GMOs are good or bad, it’s how you come to that conclusion.

“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,” Lynas told the conference audience. “I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science.”

It is difficult to determine which is more shameful and frightening — that someone could help start a movement without ever fully understanding the cause, or that so many could allow themselves to be swayed by a man without ever questioning his knowledge.

So the big reason for his change in thinking is that he discovered science. There’s only one problem with that: There are respected scientists who are against GMOs. What do we make of them?

That’s not to say that Lynas’ new-found scientific knowledge is without merit. Some of the points he makes concerning GMOs — from the merits of the blight-resistant potato to a comparison of GM and conventional breeding — are important food for thought.

But that’s exactly what they should be — food for thought. And as we gather food for thought, we should be thinking more in terms of a smorgasbord, rather than the limited menu of a single militant activist or celebrity chef or Hollywood actor or any other group with an agenda.

As for discovering science ... well, that’s a wonderful thing. But let’s remember that there are countless topics on which those within the scientific community disagree. We owe it to ourselves to study all sides of an issue before drawing our own conclusions.

And if, somewhere down the road, some new information or insight causes us to rethink our point of view, it’s OK to change our mind, even admit we were wrong.

If nothing else, Mark Lynas taught us that.

Lynas is right when he says, “farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt. If you think the old ways are the best, that’s fine. You have that right. What you don’t have the right to do is to stand in the way of others who hope and strive for ways of doing things differently, and hopefully better.”

In order to do that to the best of your ability, however, you need to exercise one other right — the right to think for yourself.

What we’ve learned from Mark Lynas’ big reversal is that it’s a right we should all learn to use more often and more wisely.

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