Well-known British journalist, author and environmentalist Mark Lynas has been a key player in the anti-GM movement across Europe. His works on climate change have received industry accolades, and his concerns and actions against technological advancements in agriculture are highly documented.
Yet in recent times, he has had cause for further thought surrounding agricultural biotechnology. In his lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this year, he outlined his conversion to GM technology.
“Incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in The Guardian attacking the science of GM—even though I had no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding,” he said.
“I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myth.”
Lynas’ argument is predicated on the fact that society has to feed 9.5 billion people by 2050 on the same land we are using today, with limited fertilizer, water and pesticides and in the context of climate change.
In his address, he took aim at deconstructing the political and social ideologies surrounding GM in food production—from chemical use and yield efficiencies to the idea of organic being a healthier option.
“It is not enough to sit back and hope that technological innovation will solve our problems,” he said. “We have to be much more active and strategic than that. We have to ensure that technological innovation moves much more rapidly, and in the right direction for those who most need it.”
He believes the global political and ideological campaigning against GM in agriculture has created economic road blocks.
“It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries,” he said.
“In fact, the latest figures I’ve seen from CropLife America suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialization, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance.
“There is a depressing irony here that the antibiotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about,” he said.
Lynas goes on to outline the yield efficiencies gained through the use of GM, where he aligns his thoughts with American agronomist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug.
Lynas quoted Borlaug stating “perhaps the most pernicious myth of all is that organic production is better, either for people or the environment.”
His questioning of organic principles goes to highlighting the notion there is more risk associated with modern technology. He believes that organic is holding back progress and halting innovation.
“Organic is also in the way when it is used to take away choice from others,” he said. “One of the commonest arguments against GM is that organic farmers will be ‘contaminated’ with GM pollen, and, therefore, no one should be allowed to use it.
“So the rights of a well-heeled minority, which come down ultimately to a consumer preference based on aesthetics, trump the rights of everyone else to use improved crops which would benefit the environment.
“I am all for a world of diversity, but that means one farming system cannot claim to have a monopoly of virtue and aim at excluding all other options.”