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Biotech Earth Science Politics

Anti-GMO Activist Recants 758

Posted by Soulskill
from the thought-for-food dept.
Freddybear writes "Former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas, who opposed genetically modified food in the 1990s, said recently, at the Oxford Farming Conference: 'I want to start with some apologies. 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. As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely. So I guess you'll be wondering — what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.' To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on 'natural' agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either. Moreover, the reason why big companies dominate the industry is that anti-GMO activists and policymakers have made it too difficult for small startups to enter the field."
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Anti-GMO Activist Recants

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  • by s.petry (762400) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:05PM (#42480083)

    In all cases, follow the money. While I'm not completely anti-GMO, the companies producing GMOs have not been honest, not been honest, and not been honest. As a long time hater and now a big advocate, I wonder who's payroll he made it on too in order to now back GMO foods. There is a tremendous amount of science showing how bad GMOs are, much worst than the anti-GMO crowd initially thought! So his "because of Science" answer is pure bullshit!

    Studies have shown that GMO foods are not only unhealthy for humans, but often harm the environment. As a simple example, Poland found that a GMO corn was killing off whole colonies of bees. Poland outlawed GMO corn.

    Studies showed that long term, GMO foods can cause some nasty cancers in lab rats. When mixed with a certain pesticide, the cancer was insanely fast growing and abnormally massive tumors would be found.

    A very large GMO company ran smear campaigns trying to keep hiding what was GMO and what was not. Do you really trust eating foods that they don't want to tell you are genetically modified? Not only not tell you, but spend nearly a billion dollars to keep you from knowing?

    That same very large GMO has been suing people left and right for having seed gone awry grow on their own farms. They have monopolized and killed off competition in many markets, many of which are overseas and impoverished areas. Interestingly, after the Mississippi river flooding, guess who bought most of the farm land? Of course it's only those Chinese and Russians that can influence the weather though, and hell an upstanding US company would never do such a thing would they?

    Needless to say at this point, I don't trust anyone that changes sides based on a lie.

  • Great and all... BUT (Score:5, Informative)

    by mindaktiviti (630001) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:07PM (#42480109)

    This is great and all that he saw the light when it comes to science... but with technology and science comes responsibility as well. Two key issues come to mind:
    (1) Cross pollination of farmers crops, and then demanding royalties from the seed owners,
    (2) and engineering the crops to disable re-planting the same seeds for the purpose of profit.

    One actual example would be allowing a patent to monsanto on basmati rice...
    link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2004/jan/31/gm.food [guardian.co.uk]

  • by thebigmacd (545973) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:37PM (#42480591)

    Income and standard of living are orthogonal metrics: standard of living can increase while income decreases, and vice-versa.

    And in the western world, standard of living has increased more than income has decreased.

  • by JMZero (449047) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:37PM (#42480593) Homepage

    Since when are terminator genes good for the environment?

    "Terminator genes" are a perfect example of the scaremongering on the anti-GMO side. They were never really deployed, and Monsanto has vowed not to do so.

    And even if they were, you've got the idea wrong. They weren't an environmental threat - rather, terminator genes were scary because they'd make poor farmers reliant on big industry for their seeds (Terminator genes prevent the resultant plants from having viable seeds). They COULD actually be good for the environment, as they'd prevent GM plants from spreading uncontrolled (which is another scare story).

    There's pluses and minuses to GM plants for food. But the debate is dominated by people with bizarre, uninformed emotional connections to one side or the other. Like yourself. Are you as brave and open minded as the guy in the OP? Having found out you're double-wrong on this, are you going to reconsider the issue and perhaps take a moment to learn about what's at stake?

    I doubt it. I think it's much more likely that you'll lash out at me because I'm mean, or something equally productive.

  • by robot5x (1035276) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:40PM (#42480647)
    I would love to mod you up.

    this should not be a black and white argument, and - admirable though this guy's public volte-face is - it doesn't really help the debate much at all.

    OK sure - there is a growing population and a possibly impending food crisis. But there is also plenty to suggest that this needn't be the case even without GMO crops, and is a result of lop-sided globalised capitalist economics. Why don't we fix the existing demand and supply imbalances, instead of just saying 'yeah we need more food, GM is OK after all guys'.? I'm surprised this guy doesn't seem worried that, even if GM can solve global food demand, the patents involved mean that food supply will be EVEN MORE concentrated in the hands of a relatively few powerful companies/individuals. That's not to say that GM is inherently bad, but from the admittedly limited amount I know about GM patents, we would be wise to open this market up before GM production really takes off in a big way.
  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:47PM (#42480761) Journal

    Genetic manipulation is a tool. It's neither good nor bad.

    His point, so far as I can take away from TFA, is that GM crops are necessary to maintain crop yields required to feed everyone at the future stable population level (which he puts at 9 billion). So he's not saying that GM is good per se, but rather than the goal it helps achieve (no starvation, better caloric yields for everyone) is good.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:48PM (#42480773) Journal

    Did you RTFA? The guy actually admits that "terminator gene" is one of those common "everybody knows" fallacies about GM crops that he himself believed in, but which aren't true - i.e. that it is not something that is actually used.

  • by avandesande (143899) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:51PM (#42480797) Journal
    Do you even know what roundup is? It is a Glycophosphate, a family of compounds with well established half lives. Once corn is a few feet tall it blots everything else out and they stop using it. Many months later when the corn is harvested it is chemically impossible for the corn to be contaminated with residue.
  • by StormReaver (59959) on Friday January 04, 2013 @04:59PM (#42480887)

    And that's what I've never understood. To these people using cross breeding and classical Mendelian genetics to modify plants are fine. But go in scientifically and do the same thing in a sophisticated lab and suddenly it's evil.

    There is much you're leaving out, but I don't have time to address it all. I'll address the biggest problem with your posting, which I quoted above. If we were to go in and do exactly the same thing that natural crossbreeding does, but just do it faster and more efficiently, I don't think there would be nearly the opposition that we're seeing with GMO crops.

    But that isn't what we're doing. We are genetically modifying crops in ways that would never happen naturally, such as splicing frog genes into our vegetables. Even this, by itself, could possibly pass muster if there were anything even remotely close to enough data over anything even remotely close to an adequate period of time showing that the practice were safe. Unfortunately, what little data we have over the short time period we've been evaluating that data are indicating that it's a dangerous practice. Putting this kind of crap in our food supply at this point in time, with what we know about the results (such as it is), should be a criminal act.

  • by HeckRuler (1369601) on Friday January 04, 2013 @05:12PM (#42481079)
    The Gini coefficient [slashdot.org] of the US is increasing [wikipedia.org]. That's income inequality. It lends weight to phrases like "the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer". While it could be that the poor are getting richer while the rich are getting ludicrously richer, that's still seems, you know, kinda unfair. It's certainly class envy, if you want to be a dick about it. But when profits are privatized while losses are socialized, as they were in the 2007 econopocalypse, you get a little angry about the weight of the yoke we bear.
  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday January 04, 2013 @05:16PM (#42481149) Journal

    Yeah, why would they use a terminator gene when they can make much more money by having someone plant some of their seed, and then suing the fuck out of everyone downwind of him who reserve the next year's seed from this year's harvest

    Can you give any actual example of that happening? The usual case that is cited is that of Percy Schmeiser [wikipedia.org], but he wasn't sued for merely having his crops cross-polinated - he was sued for specifically harvesting seeds from those crops that he knew were cross-pollinated to plant them next year, artificially separating them from those which were not so cross-pollinated.

  • by ios and web coder (2552484) on Friday January 04, 2013 @05:45PM (#42481635) Journal

    Exactly what type of "horrible shit" are you talking about?

    Basically, standard [naturalnews.com] big business horrible stuff. [huffingtonpost.com] This is behavior that lots of megacorps engage in, Monsanto just uses a new set of tools [readersupportednews.org].

    I don't consider their GM stuff to be evil, but Monsanto's predatory practices are pretty shameful, and organic farmers do tend to take it in the shorts, more than most.

    Monsanto is certainly not alone in these types of scandals. [businessinsider.com]

    This is one reason why I think that classifying businesses as "people" is ridiculous. If people behaved the way that corporations do, they would be locked up. However, corporations are rewarded for that type of behavior.

    He picked the wrong battle.

    Whenever a Mr. Natural [mccrarey.com] starts lecturing me about how we need to all return to hunter-gathere lifestyle, I counter with "No problem! We just need to exterminate about 90% of the human population on Earth. Would you like to start?"

    Whether we like it or not, the future is here, and we can't survive without factory farming, container transportation, nuclear and fossil energy, farm fishing, etc.

    There's just too damn many of us.

    The only answer to "too damn many" is "culling the herd [gocomics.com]."

  • by bdwebb (985489) on Friday January 04, 2013 @06:22PM (#42482203)
    Well since you've blown the lid off of how capitalism is evil and apparently hoarding all of the food to kill Africa and other poor nations (see, I can overgeneralize without any facts, too!), how do you suggest the food destined to be thrown away gets to Africa in a way that doesn't rape the economy of either country - teleport it?

    It's not like farmers or even government officials sit down and say "we have all this extra food material that we aren't selling that starving Africans could sure use....fuck those guys though - burn it!" You are talking about average households not using all of the food they purchase and being forced to discard up to 40% of it [http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf] because it is ALREADY bad and cannot be safely eaten. I'm not saying that a significant amount of perfectly good food product does not end up in the trash because people are retarded, I'm just saying that the window of opportunity to ship that shit out to Africa without an incredible cost expenditure is very very small and has to start immediately after processing. Ultimately the evil capitalist Americans are not the only ones discarding food at a huge rate, either - this is a problem for almost every first world nation to address.

    With regard to your assertion that GM crops don't have significantly higher yields, your claim is absolutely false and has no basis in scientific fact. From Monsanto (I know - somewhat biased but based off of an independent study so I put more merit in this than in what you've said because all you have is words and emotions): [http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/do-gm-crops-increase-yield.aspx]

    The introduction of GM traits through biotechnology has led to increased yields independent of breeding. Take for example statistics cited by PG Economics, which annually tallies the benefits of GM crops, taking data from numerous studies around the world:

    Mexico - yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybean of 9 percent.
    Romania – yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybeans have averaged 31 percent.
    Philippines – average yield increase of 15 percent with herbicide tolerant corn.
    Philippines – average yield increase of 24 percent with insect resistant corn.
    Hawaii – virus resistant papaya has increased yields by an average of 40 percent.
    India – insect resistant cotton has led to yield increases on average more than 50 percent.


    You may be referring to an article in UK's 'The Independent' claiming that a university study proves that yield is lower [http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/exposed-the-great-gm-crops-myth-812179.html]. The author of the study has discredited this sensationalist bullshit piece of pseudo-journalism himself [http://www.ipni.net/ppiweb/FILELIB.NSF/0/3FCACF5C93CFA9A18525743A006C7630/$file/Gordon_Fact_Sheet.pdf] and identified that the purpose of the study was not to study yields and that the article was in fact largely false and corrupted many statements he had made. If you're referring to that study or any of the others that anti-GMO nuts like you typically won't shut up about - I have yet to see a study that has not been disproven or is not extremely out of date. During its infancy, GM production may have been worse - there may have been modifications made that even made things inedible but this is all part of the experimental process to augment the capabilities of the food products we have to better survive and to increase yields. So we're not creating crops that can survive in the arctic tundra and yield 700% more food yet - we should just stop altogether and say "fuck it - not worth it"?

    Now to discuss the India situation - you're right (at least partially) for once. In this instance, GMO has been used to control food production rather than to augment it and help with the problem. This is not an asshole USA problem - this is a problem with the Indian government assisting with exploiting
  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday January 04, 2013 @07:07PM (#42482919) Homepage Journal

    I don't have a strong opinion as to whether GMO foods are dangerous or not. In fact, I think the question is wrong - it seems most likely that some modifications could be harmful while others could be harmless. I'm fairly certain that BT sprayed on an apple tree in the spring is not harmful to humans, but I'm not certain that BT-toxin expressed by the apple and present in the eaten food is harmless to humans. For some modifications it might be that both 'conventional' pesticides and GMO-expressed pesticides are both harmful, one may be more harmful than the other, or that organic is the only safe way to go. But not eating vegetables because of the price of organic may be worse. Science should inform this, but it seems to be incomplete at this time.

    The separate issue of labelling has important consequences. In the US, a Natural Rights Republic, the issue of Free Speech is a very important one. It's incredibly dangerous to tread on it for some perceived short-term benefit. For that reason I'm glad the California proposition to mandate labelling failed (whether it really did or not is a separate issue). Compelled speech is one of the worst kinds of free speech infringements.

    But the root of the problem lies not in compelled speech, but restrictions on free speech imposed by the FDA. It forbids companies from putting "GMO Free" on their products, so voluntary labelling can't happen. They told Polaner (All Fruit maker) that they couldn't put "GMO Free" on their strawberry spread because a strawberry is produce, "not an organism". They told Spectrum (oils refiner) that their No-GMO label would imply that there is something wrong with GMO's so they couldn't use it.

    I'd like to have more information on the foods I buy at the store. It's clear that 'the market' wants to provide it. Freedom of speech isn't just a good idea, it's the Supreme Law. It's time the FDA stopped breaking it.

  • by Pax681 (1002592) on Friday January 04, 2013 @08:50PM (#42484051)

    And I'm going to call bullshit on that:

    To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs.

    There is OVERPRODUCTION of food, but the capitalists do not allow for redistribution of goods (they prefer destroying food) so the USA is fat and Africa is dying of starvation. Also the GM crops don't have significantly higher yields for this "argument" to hold water or even grain. The sole purpose of GMO now on the market is to control food production (see India's "success" with GMO) or we would see abundance of drought and frost resistant, nitrogen fixing crops.

    i see your whining and i raise you one Norman Ernest Borlaug [wikipedia.org] who HAS saved lives with his modified plants... A BILLION OF THEM ... read it and weep my friend

    Norman Ernest Borlaug (March 25, 1914 – September 12, 2009) was an American agronomist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called "the father of the Green Revolution" and "The Man Who Saved A Billion Lives". He is one of six people to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal and was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian honor.

    Borlaug received his Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. He took up an agricultural research position in Mexico, where he developed semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties.

    During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations. These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

    Later in his life, he helped apply these methods of increasing food production to Asia and Africa.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday January 04, 2013 @08:59PM (#42484111) Journal

    A pollen cannot "trespass" on your property, it's not a sentient being.

    If you want a more or less straightforward analogy, imagine this situation. Suppose that I'm sitting somewhere in a publicly accessible place and playing a copyrighted song that I have legally acquired through some kind of speakers. Provided that there's no large audience gathered around, it's perfectly legal for me to do so. Now, you are walking by, with a recorder in your pocket, which duly records the song. You have now created and possess a fresh new copy of a copyrighted song - but not intentionally so. Now, any reasonable person would say that this does not constitute copyright infringement, unless you deliberately knew that I would be playing the song, and went there specifically to record it.

    This is the point at which Percy was once pollen landed on his field. And the court agreed that the mere fact that it pollinated his crops and they produced seeds with Monsanto's GM stuff did not constitute the infringement.

    Now, getting back to our analogy. Once you have the recording, you could copy it to some other media, and maybe even create several different copies. Does it constitute copyright infringement? If you just copy the whole contents of your recorder's memory, that includes many other things apart from the song, then it would be hard to claim that you knew that it is copyrighted - i.e. show intent - so you would be in the clear. But if you actually went through the recording minute by minute, identified this particular song, and only copied the part of the recording that corresponds to it - and did so several times at that - then you have clearly shown intent. If you have also known that the song is copyrighted when you did that, then that's a clear-cut case of copyright infringement. It doesn't matter that the song "trespassed" on your property in form of your pocket recorder. It's the deliberate act of copying it from that recorder elsewhere with full knowledge of it being copyrighted that makes you infringing.

    And that is where Percy ended up. He deliberately sprayed the newly grown canola plants on his field with Roundup to identify which parts of the field have the resistant gene, and treated them separately from the rest of the harvest - he kept all the seeds from them to replant, rather than the usual proportion. He also knew what Roundup Ready was, so he couldn't claim ignorance of what he was looking for. Hence, his replanting of those seeds is what constituted infringement of Monsanto's patent.

  • by yndrd1984 (730475) on Friday January 04, 2013 @09:06PM (#42484167)

    capitalists do not allow for redistribution of goods (they prefer destroying food) so the USA is fat and Africa is dying of starvation

    Western governments subsidize crops produced in their own countries and African producers can't compete because of those subsidies - that's not capitalism.

    Also the GM crops don't have significantly higher yields for this "argument" to hold water or even grain.

    The first generation of commercial GM crops targeted lowering costs by reducing herbicide/pesticide use, not increasing yields, because that was the simplest, easiest thing to try. Water- and nitrogen-efficient crops are in development now that the technology is more mature, the regulatory environment is stable, and more companies are working on the problem.

    The sole purpose of GMO now on the market is to control food production or we would see abundance of drought and frost resistant, nitrogen fixing crops.

    Right, because reworking large parts of a plant's metabolism is exactly as difficult as adding a gene for a single protein. *eye roll*

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @12:38AM (#42485419) Journal

    You don't have a right to demand that millions of people starve to death so that you can indulge your superstitions.

    How did this nonsense get moderated up?
    The EU has very strict laws regulating GM food that is imported into or grown in the EU.
    They passed the first law in 1997 and over the years, have only been making them stricter, much to the USA's annoyance.

    The current law mandates labeling of GM products and has an opt-out provision for any member State that does not want to allow GM imports.
    Here's an older list of Countries and municipalities that have banned GMOs: http://www.gmo-free-regions.org/gmo-free-regions/list.html [gmo-free-regions.org]
    Yes, individual states and towns can ban GMOs, even if the Country does not.

    With the European example thriving for the last 15 years, I don't see how allowing us Americans a similar legislative and regulatory framework will lead to millions of deaths from starvation.

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