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TOP STORY, July 22, 2014

Lynas details journey from anti- to pro-GMO


By DOROTHY NOBLE

AFP Correspondent


HERSHEY, Pa. — Former GMO staunch opponent Mark Lynas enlightened the United Soybean Board’s annual summer meeting attendees with illustrations of anti-GMO activist tactics.
Lynas began his presentation with an illustration of his former group, bedecked in white hazmat apparel, destroying a field of GMO crops.
“They thought,” Lynas said, “GMO is the absolute low point of anything undesirable in agriculture.”
Recognizing that scientists at the National Academy of Science, World Health Organization and the American Medical Association reported that genetically engineered foods were safe, Lynas said he started reading the scientific journals at Oxford University Radcliffe Science Library.
He then publicly acclaimed, “I was completely wrong to oppose GMO.”
For someone who had been destroying canola, corn and sugar beet crops, often at demonstrations against Monsanto, Lynas described his turnabout as a “difficult, long, complicated journey.”
Now, along with his current advisory roles, Lynas is assisting Cornell University in launching a genetically modified insect-resistant eggplant in Bangledesh to reduce pesticide usage.
Lynas shared illustrations of incidents of crop destruction despite considerable hardship to the people. One occurred during a famine in Zambia. It showed fields being torched among  activist-incited accusations, “We will not accept poisonous corn.”
Superstition and misinformation abound, Lynas said. A Greenpeace campaign in Thailand caused such a commotion that the Thai government banned the GMO crops in 2005. “None have even been trialled since that,” Lynas said.
More illustrations included incidents of vandalizing Golden Rice, developed to combat blindness in children, in the Philippines. A virus-resistant GMO cassava in Tanzania had to be kept behind locked gates. In India demonstrations against the natural ingredient, Bt, were organized.
These demonstrations occurred in spite of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and various government funding programs for genetically engineered crops.
Showing a photo of a Bangladesh farmer spraying his eggplant crop while clad in shorts and wearing flip-flop sandals, Lynas asked the soybean growers, “How many of you spray in flip-flops?” Lynas added that the insecticide which was likely an organophosphate with high toxicity, would be sprayed much more frequently in Bangladesh.
Also, he pointed out that those farmers need to avoid pesticide costs. “They have less land than the size of this room,” he said referring to the Hershey Lodge meeting room space he shared with the soybean growers.
Lynas said that the anti-GMO activists demonize the technology and spread conspiracy theories. Obviously photoshopped illustrations reinforce the message. In Africa, GMOs have been blamed for homosexuality, in Europe, sterility. In the United States, he said autism is favored. “Where do they get these things,” he asked, then answered, “They make it up.”
“Follow the money,” he declared, noting many have become multi-billionnaires by opposing GMOs. Lynas said they lead what he termed the “natural health set.”
The anti-GMO groups oppose big corporations taking on agriculture. Citing RoundUp, these companies produce insecticides. The groups do not want the corporations to succeed.
Lynas said that the agenda of the GMO labeling push is to shut down GMOs.
Regarding the future, Lynas pointed to the challenge of feeding nine billion people considering climate change. Considering a sustainable approach, with transgenics, he said we can reduce water, fertilizer and pesticide usage, conserve land with increased yields, plus employ precision agriculture concepts.
Responding to the audience, Lynas said there is a challenge in communicating. Farmers need to address the huge gap in the public’s understanding of GMOs. He suggested inviting people to their farms and getting good media coverage.
Regarding the current position of Europe against GMOs, he noted their dysfunctional regulations, but pointed out that this audience’s product is not difficult to sell.
Mark Lynas has authored several books on the environment, including “Hide Tide,” “Six Degrees,” “The God Species,” and “Nuclear 2.0.” He speaks on climate change, biotechnology and nuclear power.