But a brave environmentalist has done so, in a very public way, and says his efforts to convince governments to ban genetically modified food has led to disastrous policies throughout the world.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference in January, Mark Lynas acknowledged his work on GM foods was actually at odds with his work to improve the environment.
“I want to start with some apologies,” Lynas said. “For the record, here and upfront, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.”
What are GM crops? They’re simply crops that have been modified to produce higher yields, resist pests and withstand droughts. It’s the high-tech version of what farmers have been doing throughout history, and little different from what Gregor Mendel was doing with peas in the 19th Century.
Study after study has shown GM crops to be safe.
Lynas says his first reaction was a knee-jerk response to “corporatism.”
But as he began to study the science (after being challenged by readers of his many screeds against GM crops), he saw that research didn’t support his assumptions.
“I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals,” he said. “It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide. I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs … I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.”
GM crops can and should be marshaled in a war on hunger, he contended.
This is an important issue, because environmentalists within the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations continue to push for bans across Europe, Africa and Asia (not to mention California, where voters narrowly defeated a measure requiring GM foods be labeled as such).
Lynas is taking some heat for his reversal, but his honesty is all the more commendable for that.