Have You Heard about the Famous Anti-GMO Scientist Who Switched Sides and Is Now Pro?

January 22, 2013
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mark_lynas speechFor one thing, he isn’t a scientist at all.

This episode has been all over the media. Some commentators have speculated that this will turn the tide in Europe and persuade regulators there to give a full green light to GMO. But let’s take a moment to review the facts.

Mark Lynas is not a scientist. He does not even reveal his education on his own website, nor is it easily available on the Web. He is a British author, journalist, and environmental activist with a flair for publicity and a primary focus on climate change. He’s been called a “pioneer” and an “apostle” of the anti-GMO movement, but that is mostly his own self-promotion.

At a farming conference in Oxford, England, earlier this month, he gave a speech reversing his previous position on GMO in characteristically dramatic style: “You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food.” Obviously no scientist would make such a statement given the lack of established facts about GMO. It is precisely the lack of proven facts which are the problem. Lynas added, just to stir the pot further: “More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no one has died from eating GM.” Of course he provided no support for that wild claim.

Lynas says he was blinded by the anti-GMO rhetoric, that “ the debate is over” and there is a “scientific consensus” in favor of it, which is patently false. He told NPR that he originally came out against GMO without studying it, which we believe. While this may be indicative of his immaturity at the time—this is, after all, the same fellow who threw a cream pie in the face of climate-change-denier Bjorn Lundborg—it may also indicate his ability to be persuaded by whoever is yelling the loudest at the time.

In his speech at Oxford, Lynas made a number of more specific claims about the safety and effectiveness of genetically engineered crops. Let’s look at them and see how they stand up to all the scientific evidence:

  • “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.” Lynas says GMO benefits small farmers, who rely on and want the seeds. Not true. Farmers in India went into debt to buy GE seeds, hoping for increased yield, and when those crops failed due to pest infestation, they were left more impoverished with no prospects for the future. Farmers were not told that the crops would require twice the amount of water, and that the crops do not produce viable seeds—which means the farmers would have to keep purchasing new seeds. In response, many farmers killed themselves. The rate of Indian farmer suicides began increasing after the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt cotton in 2002, and two-thirds of farmer suicides occur in five Indian states, which has come to be known as India’s “Suicide Belt.” Over 17,000 farmers in India committed suicide in 2009 alone because of Monsanto and GE seeds. Many of the farmers made their suicides a symbolic act by drinking Monsanto’s pesticide. Lynas’s primary argument here is that GMOs will feed the world and increase crop yields. Our extensive article shows that this simply isn’t true.
  • “I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.” True about insecticides, but wrong about the rest—insecticides are not the only chemical problem. GMOs have dramatically increased the use of herbicides. Roundup Ready crops have grown resistant to herbicides, creating superweeds that require even more dangerous and toxic herbicides.
  • Lynas calls the regulatory system in Europe burdensome, unnecessarily increasing the cost of GMOs. Not everywhere! Here in the US there is no regulatory system specific to GMOs, turning consumers into human guinea pigs, and concentrating money and power in the hands of few powerful biotech companies, with the USDA rubberstamping GMO deregulation to the benefit of Big Farma.
  • “I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding, using mutagenesis for example.” Safer than mutagenesis, a process that involves exposure to radiation and chemicals? Maybe. Safe? Categorically untrue. For someone who says he has come to love the scientific method, this is a remarkably unscientific conclusion, because there have been no long-term human studies supporting the safety of GMOs. What is most notable about the GMO field is the lack of independent, objective, and long-term studies in humans. There have, however, been plenty of animal studies, and here the science is becoming clearer: GMOs may be causing birth defects, high infant mortality rates, fertility problems, and sterility in hamsters, rats, mice, and livestock fed GMO soy and corn, and some hamster pups even began growing hair inside their mouths. Studies indicate other serious health risks as well: immune system dysregulation, with changes in the number of immune response cells showing up in the gut, spleen, and blood—all of which points to an allergenic and inflammatory response to GMOs; increased aging (especially in the liver); dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation; and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen, and gastrointestinal system.

The real story here is not Lynas’s antics, from pie-throwing to dramatic recantations. It is the media’s coverage of the latest self-promotional stunt. Cover the stunt if you like, but please do not pretend that this has anything remotely to do with science.

Editor’s Note, 1/25/13: In an earlier version of this article, we included an abbreviated quote by Mark Lynas on the safety of GM.

32 Responses to “Have You Heard about the Famous Anti-GMO Scientist Who Switched Sides and Is Now Pro?”

  1. Jan says:

    As someone who goes into agonizing pain whenever I eat just a hint of GM wheat, I applaud your work and support you in your thorough work toward a world where health is a liberty we should be free to pursue as individuals–that’s the bottom line here folks. We don’t want government stepping on our freedoms. Thanks for exposing this sellout.

       19 likes

    • Michael Femia says:

      There is no commercial GM wheat. You might just have celiac disease. You should probably check on that.

         7 likes

    • hank hudson says:

      I recently switched to gluten free bread — it’s more expensive but safer. My grocer has GF labels on all gluten free items which makes things easier. Have also switched to Green Wise meats – no antibiotics, pesticides and raised on open pesticide-free fields. The cost difference is minor.

         0 likes

    • Theo Horesh says:

      Perhaps the reason it is so difficult to come up with a scientist who has switched from anti to pro-GMO is because there are so few scientists who are actually anti-GMO. The World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Royal Society of London, the French, German, and American National Academies of Science, the American Medical Association, and just about every other reputable scientific body the world over that has produced a statement on GMOs has declared the genetically modified food that is on the market today to be as safe as any other food.

         1 likes

  2. Barb says:

    Your work on covering or uncovering these so called specialists is extremely encouraging. It is so good to know that the truth of the matter will get out thanks to organizations such as yours.

       28 likes

    • Patricia V says:

      Thank you for being there for us, without people such as you , fighting to get the truth out,our planet and all on it is doomed
      Patricia

         17 likes

  3. art says:

    well its good to see this evil come to light its what I protested in my hippy days the poison in the food and their was gmo ing going on then but still most are unaware I havent eat corn since the sixtys because of it , the thing that bothers me its still a growing thing . why can we stop it. simple they buy them off and money make strange bed fellows. but god willing we will stop it. and I believe it in my heart we are in the paridime shift for change and evil will lose At 70 capital lettesr are easy to see and read your shouting crap is control bull

       4 likes

  4. Kevin C says:

    This man is as dangerous as the bought and paid for politicians who are spouting off the same unsupported rhetoric about GMO safety. Owen Paterson our so called DEfRA minister is as bad as Lynas. He also spoke at the farming conference in Oxford. Meanwhile across the street from this shambolic event there was another conference taking place. The Oxford Real Farming Conference. It is was the third consequtive Real Farming Conference and by far had more scientific credibility, more motivation towards biodiversity, soil health and involving young people in the future of organic and sustainable GM free agriculture. I was privileged to be other for the event.
    The future of farming needs to be brought back down to basic principles of correct soil conditioning and animal husbandry. Correct crop rotations and an end to monoculture farming.
    We also know that GMO crops adversely affect biodiversity as was proven by the GMO crop trials held in the UK during the late 20th and early 21st century. That was actually based on real scientific research by real scientists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. A UK scientific organisation under the umbrella of the Natural Environmental Research Council. Go look it up.

       10 likes

  5. Suzanne says:

    GMOs of course are dangerous. Why don’t people read Natural News everyday. It’s always honest and on the level and doesn’t even mention the mainstream agenda like the regular old rags do?

       4 likes

  6. The GMO battle is a reflection of our times where Big Money rules. We see this in politics and just about everything else. If this were a normal investigation of GMO we would be seeing trials on the validity of GMO but those are absent. That the food companies do not want to list if their ingredients are GMO attest to the lack of real scientific proof.

       5 likes

  7. Expat says:

    First Dr. Oz pulls his embarrassing flip flop on GMO, after strongly urging against their consumption, now this bozo gets high profile exposure with his pseudo scientific tripe. Apparently the big GMO manufacturers are in full damage control mode. Their only defense is lies, but the big lie stated often enough, is very effective. The fascist psychopaths have no shame.

       8 likes

  8. eileen miller says:

    There are people who deny facts, such as, climate change, evolution, that the food you eat has no bearing on your health, etc. I have been in the nutrition field for over 30 years and have seen the evdence of healthy eating. I have also closely followed the GMO controversy and am convinced that eating GMO foods is not conducive to good health to say the least. Ask yourself why Monsanto recently spent 46 million to keep labeling from becoming law in California and continues to fight against the public’s right to chose. I believe their plan is to keep obstructing until they manage to contaminate the vast majority of crops through wind drift, etc. and when they are finnally forced to label, we will have a hard time in the USA of finding non-GMO foods. Because our agencies have not protected the public’s right to choose and insisted GMO’s be labeled, which the majority of our citizens want, we who value our health are forced to buy organic products if we want to avoid GMO’s. If Monsanto really believed that GMO’s were of benefit why would they want that fact hidden from the public and pay millions to obstruct the will of the people. Can we count on any government agency to stand up to Monsanto, et al and at the very least reqjuire labeling of GMO’s?

       8 likes

  9. Karen says:

    Lynas has obviously been bought out by Monsanto. He is not believable anyway,and this doesn’t bother me one bit. We, the people, do not want GMO’s in our food supply, that is one thing that is clear, and that is what matters. We will continue to reject these toxic products, and vote with our dollar at the grocery store until the bio-tech companies finally get it, if need be. We will not be bullied or propagandized any longer…we are smarter than believing Lynas’s latest rant, and chose to side with the real scientists on this one, thank you.

       5 likes

  10. GEORGE OLSSON says:

    The world is filled with people like this that are not concerned about anyone but themself. And if Mark Lynas is so certain about his unqualified claim then prove you are right by eating GMO/GE food exclusively with your family for 20 years. And get back to us with the results. Then he can make is claims based on fact. Otherwise he is a lipsmacking dgbyjunbbdfh.

       3 likes

  11. John L. Gardiner says:

    This is one of those situations where a dose of personal accountability – with nasty penalties for perjury – would make people like Lynas have second thoughts about advertising such a ‘conversion’. Simple awareness of recent independent research – you don’t have to be a scientist – would have made him think again about seeking this publicity; one wonders what his real motivations are.

       1 likes

  12. Elizabeth Neighbors says:

    If MS, once rare and now becoming more and more prevalent,is actually an inability of a persons cells to asbsorb and use nutrients ( vitamin D with links to B -12) properly ,as newer studies are indicating and your information is correct, , it begs the questions….. How many GMOs have we already been exposed to ? And….. Is the reason they are so against the public being aware of what items contain GMOs much more dastardly and disgusting than we fear?

       2 likes

    • Donna Marquart says:

      Yes, I think the large Agri-Business-Seed-chemical companies know what they are selling is not good for living things. And they are busy putting into the farm bill a legal back door to retreat to. I read something about the new Farm Bill, has a rider in it to exempt large Agri/Chemical entities from legal prosecution.

         3 likes

    • Betty K. says:

      I’m very interested in where you get your information on MS research? I have MS and don’t keep up on the newest research like I should. Thanks

         0 likes

  13. Joyce says:

    Please – someone tell this idiot to look up why India outlawed Monsanto GMO seeds after doing their own study on produce grown from them and finding no more litters after only 3 generations.

    He should also look up the results of France’s 2 year study of GMO produce (longest run research)
    and look at those poor study “creatures”. If he has any sense at all – he will never knowingly eat
    any GMO produce from Monsanto or anyone else!

       1 likes

  14. Michael Cook says:

    Thank you for this. I have shared it via email, and on Facebook. I had read about his “conversion” but it just didn’t ring true for me–it was not specific, nor backed up by the research I had read. Thank you for this response.

       1 likes

  15. Bimbam says:

    GMO is making so much money they can buy off the lesser people of the anti-GMO movement. For the love of money is the root of all evil.

       1 likes

  16. Michele says:

    Anyone who promotes synthetic seeks to profit. If a plant cannot regenerate by its seed it should not enter the food industry.

       6 likes

  17. Robert Cruder says:

    Science is what one does, not what one is!

    The anti-GMO community had no trouble with Mr. Lynas when he was anti-GMO. Being outside the scientific establishment might well have been proof of purity. As an apostate to the faith (but now in agreement with mainstream research) that same background is insufficient.

    Science existed long before university degrees. It was always based on stating a hypothesis consistent with past observations, deriving predictions from that hypothesis and then testing the predictions. A poor hypothesis may stand for a time but is eventually crushed by the weight of contrary observations.

    Faith, dogma and ideology may establish a claim but are defined by their failure to change their claim when lacking confirmatory evidence or facing contrary evidence. Ad-hominem attacks are common, especially against heretics and apostates.

    The anti-GMO side has not presented actual harm consistent with its frightening predictions and needs to revise its claims consistent with peer-reviewed research. Their few supporting studies have been panned by professional scientists (the ones with the MDs and PHDs) as too flawed to prove anything. As with climate change and evolution, one must hold with the 98% consensus and not cherry-pick the remaining 2% regardless of their degrees.

    Whether one should believe the MDs and PHDs over a layman is not relevant when both look at the same evidence and agree on the conclusion. Science may not really be said to have established truth until the layman sees the conclusion as mere common sense and asks what all the fuss was about.

       1 likes

    • Ruth Kaczmarek says:

      You’re right; we can’t prove that GMOs are harmful – any more than you can prove they aren’t.

      May I remind you of the DES problem of the 1950s? DES was found to prevent miscarriages and was used to “save” many pregnancies. Lo and behold, 20 years later, the children born of those pregnancies started showing up with cancer – first cervical cancer in girls, then prostate cancer in boys. Without exhaustive, long term studies, WE DON’T KNOW WHAT THE EFFECTS OF GMOS WILL BE, and that applies equally to both sides of the argument. I’d rather err on the side of caution.

         0 likes

    • george says:

      Thank you so much for that comment! I’m an environmentalist and a scientist and I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the almost religious certainty of the anti-GMO folks. The one thing that you can be sure of is that if anyone questions the rhetoric in any way, he or she will be branded as a Monsanto tool. Further, I’ve seen far, far too many flat out lies told by activists who are clearly more interested in power than in truth. It is deeply dispiriting to watch the “good guys” sink into hysterical fear mongering in pursuit of their goals. There is nothing wrong with being deeply suspicious of Corporate behavior, but that doesn’t mean we have to trust everything that environmentalists say either. Profit is just one motivation to lie. Ideology is another.

         0 likes

  18. Melinda Sleight says:

    Thank you for this clarification. I was stunned listening to the interview last week in which he was given this platform. Again, a case of the Emperor out running around sans his clothes.

       1 likes

  19. Lisa Kroening says:

    gmo is designed to kill people! get a clue

       1 likes

  20. Marc Authier says:

    The TRUTH in science always finishes to prevail. Science in USA is totally discredited when it comes to genetic research and real science. We are nor suprised. These people will stop at nothing to suppress real science.

       0 likes

  21. Kirk Taylor says:

    Excuse me, I’ve been sent by Eddie Bernays to tell you how wonderful GMO is. I’ve even got FDA backing for medical claims of health. Come to my office and I’ll show you

    Who IS this idiot?

       1 likes

  22. Peter Garnham says:

    His ignorance is matched by that of ANH-USA in continuing to us the term “GMO” when what is really the issue is GE — genetically engineered — crops. GMO and GE are not interchangeable terms, and do NOT mean the same thing. We have eaten genetically modified (GM) crops for thousands of years. Any organization that says GMO when they mean GE is simply demonstrating its botanical ignorance, and playing right into the hands of Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow CropSciences et al, because they want us to be confused and get the science wrong.

       0 likes

    • Ruth Kaczmarek says:

      Yes, but it quickly differentiates between a type of product and a major American corporation – General Electric. Do you consider selectively bred plants (or animals) as GMO? How about mutations? What do you mean by “modified” as opposed to “engineered”?

         0 likes

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