Anti-GMO Activist’s Stunning Reversal

While Golden Rice was developed over ten years at the miniscule total cost of $2.6 million, in an extraordinary public-private partnership using funds donated by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federation, the National Science Foundation, and the European Union, Greenpeace International alone annually spends about $270 million annually, and upwards of $7 million each year specifically dedicated to burying Golden Rice and any other food or crop developed using biotechnology.

While Golden Rice was developed over ten years at the miniscule total cost of $2.6 million, in an extraordinary public-private partnership using funds donated by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federation, the National Science Foundation, and the European Union, Greenpeace International alone annually spends about $270 million annually, and upwards of $7 million each year specifically dedicated to burying Golden Rice and any other food or crop developed using biotechnology.annually, and upwards of $7 million each year specifically dedicated to burying Golden Rice and any other food or crop developed using biotechnology.

Julie Gunlock writes:

Mark Lynas gets right to the point:

“I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise 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 demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.”

Lynas uttered that stunningly frank apology last week during a lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference.  It’s a big deal. A big reversal.

Here’s why.

Golden Rice grain being held by Dr Parminder Virk in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants.

Golden Rice grain being held by Dr Parminder Virk in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants.

Mark Lynas, a journalist and environmental activists, is one of the founders of the anti-GMO movement. As Slate reports, as recently as 2008, Lynas blamed corporate greed for threatening world health. In fact, the anti-GMO hysteria we see today (which was on full display on the Women for Food Freedom Facebook page when my Policy Focus on GM food was published) can, to some degree, be blamed on the writing and political activisim of Mark Lynas.

Editor’s note: In a typical example of anti-GMO alarmism, revealing breathtaking scientific ignorance, one punditfromanotherplanet reader complains about possible food allergies, “gastrointestinal problems” (in the first world, of course) and actually boasts about promoting what he believes is a more beneficial approach to global hunger: giving half a box of boutique, “community supported” produce to local food banks (as if this addresses global starvation risks for millions of people who are the victims of ignorant, pro-death anti-GMO activists:

“I would say number of people that we know are affected by GMOs? Very unclear. ‘Food allergies’ and gastrointestinal problems in the US are hugely on the rise. Inserting a gene for a pesticide into a plant that we eat is very very different from selecting the best tomato or crossing two plants. Making seeds that grow plants that cannot reproduce risks endangering our food supply. I have been buying a community supported agriculture box from a local farmer for the last 10 years: five different farms, in fact. This year I will buy the large box and give half to the food bank. I have time this year too for a garden and I will grow some food.

Then, drkottaway adds this little masterpiece of unintended comedy, drawing a comparison between the alleged risks of GMO crops, and the health hazards of smoking tobacco.

“…shoot, look at how long it took to prove that smoking harmed people and how hard the companies fought that and how they hid information. I can afford to avoid GMOs and help another hungry person avoid GMOs.”

True, and here in the reality-based community, we can make an honest, realistic effort to help alleviate life-threatening micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries, and join the global fight to shut down VAD. What is VAD? Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is responsible for 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness and up to 2 million deaths each year. Giving food to food banks is laudable, of course. But let’s not pretend it’s a substitute for serious intervention in preventable deaths. Shoot, I wouldn’t want to be among the pro-death alarmists who participate in promoting ignorance, hunger, starvation, and blindness, would you?

It is therefore remarkable that he has made this reversal. And he’s not being shy about it.  I encourage anyone interested in this subject to read his whole speech, but here’s just a sample of how he discovered many of his assumptions about GMOs were wrong:

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Journalist and political activist Mark Lynas

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. 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 Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

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.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.

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Did the CIA Fund Creative Writing in America?

 How Iowa Flattened Literature

Illustration by Scott Seymour, original image from Istock

Illustration by Scott Seymour, original image from Istock

Eric Bennett writes:  Did the CIA fund creative writing in America? The idea seems like the invention of a creative writer.

Yet once upon a time (1967, to be exact), Paul Engle, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, received money from the Farfield Foundation to support international writing at the University of Iowa. The Farfield Foundation was not really a foundation; it was a CIA front that supported cultural operations, mostly in Europe, through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and eggheaded abstraction. The damage to writing lingers.

Seven years earlier, Engle had approached the Rockefeller Foundation with big fears and grand plans. “I trust you have seen the recent announcement that the Soviet Union is founding a University at Moscow for students coming from outside the country,” he wrote. This could mean only that “thousands of young people of intelligence, many of whom could never get University training in their own countries, will receive education … along with the expected ideological indoctrination.” Engle denounced rounding up students in “one easily supervised place” as a “typical Soviet tactic.” He believed that the United States must “compete with that, hard and by long time planning”—by, well, rounding up foreign students in an easily supervised place called Iowa City. Through the University of Iowa, Engle received $10,000 to travel in Asia and Europe to recruit young writers—left-leaning intellectuals—to send to the United States on fellowship.

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