Mark Lynas: ‘The environmental movement is causing hunger and poverty’

By Justin Cremer

June 11, 2018

Author and environmentalist Mark Lynas (center) interviewing Bt brinjal farmers in Bangladesh. Photo: Alliance for Science

Mark Lynas, the former anti-GMO activist whose new book “Seeds of Science: Why We Got it So Wrong on GMOs” is due for US release later this month, appeared on Radio New Zealand over the weekend.

In a 24-minute interview on the Sunday Morning program, Lynas recounted his early days as an activist who destroyed GMO crops in the United Kingdom, sharing a story about the nighttime action when “all hell broke loose” and he nearly wound up in police custody.

Listen to the interview here; article continues below:

Lynas, who is a frequent contributor to the Alliance for Science, then shared what led him to completely change his mind on the issue of genetic modification – a turnaround that happened almost by accident as he was working on his 2004 book on climate change, “Six Degrees”.

“I didn’t wake up one day and start reading the scientific literature on GMOs. I went off to write about climate change [and] my mind gradually opened to this whole idea that there is a scientific method out there and that if you provide information to the general public as a science writer you have to get your facts right,” Lynas said.

“That means being in accordance with what the majority of the scientific community is saying,” he continued. “On GMOs, the environmental movement goes completely against what the scientific community says. It’s almost like the greens are on the same side as the climate change deniers when it comes to the GMO issue. As a science writer, I realized belatedly that I had to stand with science on both of these issues.”

The interview also touched on Lynas’s much-discussed mea culpa at the 2013 Oxford Farming Conference, an apology that he joked “made [him] famous for about 10 minutes,” and his disappointment with groups like Greenpeace that have gone all-in on the anti-GMO message. Lynas said that through his travels to developing countries, he’s seen how the anti-GMO stance of Greenpeace and other like-minded organizations is having a real-life impact on subsistence farmers by denying them access to disease- and drought-resistant seeds.

“There are pests and diseases destroying people’s crops in sub-Saharan Africa, where what people eat is what they can grow themselves. If their harvest fails then they go hungry, and that’s what I saw happening,” he said.

Recounting a scare campaign in Uganda in which the “really reputable” ActionAid placed advertisements on national radio that erroneously claimed that GMOs can cause cancer and infertility, Lynas said: “It’s hardly surprising” that policymakers in Africa have banned GMOs, leaving crops like disease-resistant cassava and drought-tolerant maize “sitting on the shelves or behind high fences.”

“You can make a pretty strong case that the environmental movement is actually causing hunger and poverty,” Lynas said.