Falling Off the Anti-GMO-Food Bandwagon

mark-lynas-GMOThe year 2008 was pivotal for Mark Lynas, a well-known science writer and environmentalist. It was the year he redefined his position on GMOs, a topic he often wrote about and advocated against.

Since the 1990s, Lynas had provided a strong voice for the anti-GMO movement. In addition to writing for popular British news outlets such as The Guardian, Lynas led workshops for environmental organizations with anti-GMO agendas. He says his switch from GMO opponent to supporter is a result of his need to provide scientific evidence to his readers.

Recently, CommonGround sat down with Lynas to learn more about his new perspective.

Q: What caused you to shift from condemning GMOs to supporting them?

A: It was a longtime process – years. I wrote my last anti-GMO piece in 2008, in The Guardian (an influential British news outlet). By the time I was writing my book, God Species, I was beginning to change my mind. I was writing an anti-GMO chapter at the time, and, because I was doing the book as a scientific-literature review, I turned to pro because there wasn’t any scientific evidence to support what I thought I knew about biotechnology.

Q: What science or evidence made you say, ‘I don’t believe this anymore’?

A: What I was doing, really, was trying to hold myself to consistent standards as to how I was using science, as a science writer myself. So on climate change I was insisting that scientific evidence should be preeminent, that we should use scientific consensus as a baseline, and we should always use peer-reviewed studies. On biotech, it was sort of the opposite, where I was using factsheets from environmental organizations, campaigning materials and political ideology. The facts I used were not supported scientifically … they weren’t evidence based in fact. And so, as a science communicator, I had to resolve the issue.

Q: That has to be quite a culture shock for you to come from the anti-GMO movement and then turn around and say ‘here’s where I was wrong and this is what the evidence says.’ What has been the reaction to your change?

A: I’ve had probably more positive messages and support than negative from the scientific community and from farmers around the world. Less from industry, in fact, because I do not have a lot to do with industry.

Q: What if you were talking to a mom who is concerned about feeding GMO foods to her family? What would you tell her?

A: It’s difficult to know where to start because by the time people are already at that point, they’re already scared. To me, I want to speak to everyone on equal terms because I’m not an expert myself. I’m not Dr. Lynas, who’s got a Ph.D. in molecular biology. I’m just someone who’s written books and who still considers himself to be an environmentalist. And I think I share the values and the agenda of many of these people. So hopefully I can talk in a way that’s understood.

Q: Do you have anything else you want to add about biotechnology and food choices?

A: I’m supportive of organic in the interest of diversity. I want a diverse farming sector and for people to try out lots of different things. There has to be an open-minded approach to how we confront the challenges of the future. That means that no one has a monopoly on virtue when you take an evidence-based approach to what’s good and what’s bad.

— The above featured blog originally was published by CommonGround, a group of volunteer farm women who’s goal is to start conversations between women who grow food, and the women who buy it.

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