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Former Anti-GMO Activist Says Science Changed His Mind

Posted: January 20, 2013

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For years, British environmental activist Mark Lynas vandalized genetically modified food crops. Then, he had a change of heart. He went in front of the world to reverse his position, telling the anti-GMO lobby to "get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably."

Harvest wheat from a field near Wright, Kan. May 10, 2004.

Harvest wheat from a field near Wright, Kan. May 10, 2004. ORLIN WAGNER

For years, British environmental activist Mark Lynas destroyed genetically modified food (GMO) crops in what he calls a successful campaign to force the business of agriculture to be more holistic and ecological in its practices.

His targets were companies like Monsanto and Syngenta — leaders in developing genetically modified crops.

Earlier this month he went in front of the world to reverse his position on GMOs.

At the Oxford Farming Conference in Britain, Lynas apologized for helping "to start the anti-GMO movement" and told his former allies to "get out of the way, and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably."

He spoke to Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, about his change of heart.


Interview Highlights

On 'discovering science'

"When I started off as an anti-GMO activist, it was very much an ideological position. I was scared of the new technology, you know, it just seemed to be messing with the basic building blocks of life. But what happened in the sort of 10, 15 years since then, is that I have written a couple of books on climate change, and I really fell in love with the scientific method as a way of establishing knowledge about the world. It eventually dawned on me ... that I was actually being anti-science in the way I was talking about GMOs, and that there are many ways a stronger scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs than there is about the reality of climate change."

On the 'saga of golden rice'

"One of the case studies that really changed my mind about this was the saga of golden rice, which was developed to be vitamin A-enhanced, because something like a quarter million children per year die from a vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries, particularly in South Asia ... Greenpeace has been waging a campaign to stop this rice from ever being developed ... You can make a pretty strong case that tens of thousands of children have died because they were denied access to this purely because it's GM, and there is a ideological bias against that."

On admitting fallibility

"I would be the first one to say that having been wrong before, I am not infallible now. For me, it's important to look at what the mainstream science is saying. We need to get on with developing more biotech crops because they can potentially be an enormous boon environmentally, and I think that is a message that has been lost in this debate so far."

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