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Uncovering the Real Story Behind the 'Conversion' of Mark Lynas from Climate Change Journalist to Cheerleader for Genetically Modified Foods

Is Lynas just a slick self-promoter willing to say anything for attention? Or did he sell his soul to the biotech industry?
 
 
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On January 3, Mark Lynas, British author of several books on global warming including Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, told a sold-out audience at the Oxford Farming Conference in Oxford, England, that he was sorry.

Sorry that he'd maligned genetically modified (GM) crops. Sorry that he'd “helped to start the anti-GM movement.” Sorry that he'd “demonized” a technology that could be used to “benefit the environment.”

That's right. An expert on global warming was now telling the world that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and GM crops, with their billions of tons of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, with their large-scale monocultures that leave food crops vulnerable to drought, pests and disease, are good for the environment. 

Mainstream media reporters tripped over themselves to get the story out. Suddenly, the Mark Lynas “conversion speech” was major news. “An Environmentalist's Conversion,” read the New Yorker. “Stark Shift for Onetime Foe of Genetic Engineering in Crops,” said the New York Times.

Never mind that Lynas's past work has been almost exclusively on climate issues, rather than genetically engineered foods and farming. Never mind that the real leaders of the European anti-GMO movement scoffed at the notion that he was in any way a leader or founder. Never mind that his “conversion” was hardly news - he's been publicly praising genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for at least three years. The press fawned over Lynas's recantation.

How did a journalist, well-known for his work on climate change, become an impassioned advocate and spokesperson for the biotech industry? And an instant media star in the process? Is Lynas just a slick self-promoter willing to say anything for attention? Or did he sell his soul to the biotech industry?

Leaked Documents Link Lynas to Biotech Industry Lobby Group

In 2011, leaked documents were obtained from the Brussels-based EuropaBio, the continent's “largest and most influential biotech industry group,” detailing an intricate plan to fracture the European green movement in hopes of undermining its near unanimous opposition to the biotech industry agenda. 

EuropaBio's members read like a who's who of multinational pesticide and biotech corporations notorious for endangering human health, polluting the environment and deceiving the public. Members include Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, BASF, Eli Lilly, and Dupont. According to the leaked documents, Mark Lynas was one of the biotech industry's most sought after ambassadors (i.e. undercover spokespeople). 

The lobby group's plan was to recruit high-profile, non-affiliated, “ambassadors” like Lynas to lobby European leaders to adopt more GE-friendly policies. Designated spokespeople would have bestowed upon them an undeserved aura of independence and objectivity.

Lynas has denied being recruited by the lobby group. Yet his January public relations stunt may as well have come straight from the EuropaBio leaked playbook. Given the untruths woven throughout his “conversion” speech, can we believe him when he says he isn't shilling for Monsanto?

Discovering science? Or towing the biotech industry line?

Lynas's conversion speech was remarkable, coming from someone who calls himself an environmentalist and a firm believer in the human role in climate change. But then, perhaps his past history as a well-known environmental writer is just what made him so attractive to the biotech industry. Who better to trot out to the international media as a GMO convert, than a prominent expert on climate change?

After his earnest apology for his past involvement in the anti-GM movement, Lynas told listeners that, “This was also explicitly an anti-science movement.” He claimed that the answer to his conversion was simple: “I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.” He even goes on to say: “For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change.”

If we pin our hopes for the future of our environment and our climate on a Lynas-type environmentalist, we are all in trouble.

Lynas's speech is rife with bad science and biotech industry talking points. In his pre-conversion speech days, Lynas said he mistakenly believed that GM crops would result in an increase in the use of pesticides, but, he said, “It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.” 

Not so, according to study after study, including the evidence-based GMO Myths and Truths study published in 2012 by Earth Open Source. According to the scientists behind GMO Myths and Truths, farmers applied 318 million more pounds of pesticides as a result of planting GM seeds over the first thirteen years of commercial use. In 2008, GM crop fields required over 26% more pounds of pesticides per acre (1 acre = 0.4 hectares) than fields planted to non-GM varieties.

Among those chemicals? Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. In his speech, Lynas called glyphosate “benign.” Perhaps he missed the report last year by the Institute of Science in Society, with its long list of “serious” health and environmental concerns linked to glyphosate. The study concluded: There is a compelling case for banning or phasing out glyphosate-based herbicides worldwide, in favour of a global transition to non-GM, herbicide-free organic agriculture.”

Lynas spelled out a long list of reasons for his conversion, all of them perfectly in line with the biotech industry's propaganda. Much of the corporate media failed to recognize or challenge the litany of inaccuracies, but some lesser-known journalists took him on, including Jason Mark of the Earth Island Journal, one of the world's leading agro-ecologists Professor John Vandermeer, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Dr. Brian John

The fact is, by every measure, GM crops are a disaster. They don't increase yields. They do produce super weeds. They aren't good for farmers: By the end of 2012, farmers had paid Monsanto over $23.5 million from patent infringement lawsuits. 

And they surely aren't good for the environment. Genetic engineering creates large-scale monocultures that destroy biodiversity and make crops vulnerable to disease and drought. 

The Real Story: A Growing Peoples Movement for Food Democracy and Freedom

Mark Lynas's conversion speech bought the biotech industry a few days of good press.  But as more and more evidence surfaces as proof that GMOs are not harmless to human health, that GM crops increase, rather than decrease the amount of pesticides released into the environment, and that they are in fact destroying the environment, not benefiting it, Lynas and his speech will fade away into the dustbin of history.

What isn't going anywhere, is the growing people's movement demanding greater food transparency and freedom, a healthy and sustainable food and farming system, a green and equitable economy, a stable climate and mandatory labeling of all foods that have been genetically engineered in a laboratory.

Everyday people are taking on the multi-billion dollar pesticide and biotech industries in a fight over the future of the food supply. A few examples:

  • Growing numbers of citizens are demanding the FDA reject the commercialization of genetically engineered (GE) salmon; 
  • Voters are mobilizing in support of upcoming high-profile GMO labeling battles in Vermont, Connecticut, and Washington - with as many as 30 more states planning to pursue similar labeling efforts in the near future;
  • Increasing numbers of Fortune 500 corporations are abandoning the biotech and pesticide industry's anti-choice agenda, and rethinking the bottom-line costs of bankrolling anti-right-to-know campaigns; 
  • And counties and cities across the United States are banning GMO crops entirely -- others even demanding their own local “food bills of rights”.

These kinds of bottom up, people-driven grassroots movements dedicated to putting the rights and health of humans ahead of the profits of the pesticide and biotech industries are sprouting up everywhere -- and winning.

 

 

Katherine Paul is director of communications for the Organic Consumers Association.

 

 

Zack Kaldveer is assistant media manager at the Organic Consumers Association.

Katherine Paul is director of development and communications at the Organic Consumers Association.

 
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