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Mark Lynas

GM foods: Poacher turned gamekeeper

An anti-GMO food activist has made a stunning turnaround. Mark Lynas, once one of the most outspoken critics of the GMO movement in both the UK and around the world, now believes genetically modified food is safe. The big question is whether his conversion is just a one-off or whether it is a sign that public scepticism about all things GM may be starting to shift.

After apologising for his part in ‘ripping up GM crops’ during his time as an environmental and food activist, Lynas claimed that he longer supports the anti-GMO claims.

“You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food,” he says.

Following a recent speech, Lynas has stirred up an intriguing debate both online and off about genetically-modified (GM) foods. Lynas is the author of three well-received books about the environment and was an early anti-GM activist, spending, as he puts it “several years ripping up GM crops” in the 1990s.

In 2008, Lynas was unsparing in his criticism of GM food companies, calling their claims that GM crops could feed the world “outlandish” and dismissing arguments that they could better cope with the impact of climate change “a new line in emotional blackmail”.

At the Oxford conference on January 3rd, Lynas was no less uncompromising. He began his speech : “I want to start with some apologies…I am sorry that I helped start the anti-GM movement…I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.”

His new position will be familiar to readers of this blog. “We will have to feed 9.5 billion hopefully less poor people by 2050 on about the same land area as we use today, using limited fertiliser, water and pesticides and in the context of a rapidly changing climate.”

It will be impossible to feed those extra mouths by digging up more land, because there isn’t much going and because land conversion is a large source of greenhouse gases. Taking more water from rivers will accelerate biodiversity loss. And we need to improve — and probably reduce — nitrogen use (ie in chemical fertilisers) which is creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and eutrophication in fresh water. The only way of squaring this circle will be through the technology-driven intensification of farming — ie, GM.

The criticism he received will be equally familiar…..

The Economist: Read the full article

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