In January this year, here in Britain, author and activist Mark Lynas made a speech to our National Farmers Union (NFU). He caused quite a stir. He said that he wanted ‘to put science back at the centre of the GM debate,’ and he classed himself as having been a leader in the anti-GM movement. He apologised for having been that leader. If he really was that leader. Some of the people he claims to have led say he wasn’t their leader.
GM is genetic modification, also called genetic engineering. It’s one kind of biotechnology. The Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) shows us the actual words that Mr Lynas said to the NFU. He made no secret of the fact that his apology came while promoting his latest book, which came out a few weeks later. He also made no secret of his not being a scientist.
Two months after the loud apology, Will Storr at the Observer told us how Mr Lynas did what he did, then changed his mind.
Fast-forward a few months, and we see more of Mr Lynas. CBI shows us what Mr Lynas said in July 2013. He’s keen to tell everybody that GM food isn’t dangerous to eat. Yawn. As you can see under my ‘genetic modification’ tag, I think that’s a distraction, even perhaps a smokescreen for more substantive reasons to question the value of GM crops.
I think that other approaches to feeding the world may be less exciting than GM, to people who love technology, but they may be more relevant. Saving seeds, for example. Because not all the promises made for GM have come true.
Mr Lynas ended his remarks in July with a mention of GM cassava (Manihot esculenta) which, he says, faces ‘opposition from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who want to keep all GM crops out of Africa.’ It’s not clear why he mentions cassava instead of the other staple crops people grow and eat in different parts of the world. But it’s clear that he wants to return to his statement in January that he’s up against ‘naysayers’.
[Edit] Perhaps he thought he was talking about Yellow Cassava but that’s a selectively bred variety, not involving GM. Perhaps by ‘NGOs who want to keep all GM crops out of Africa’ he meant the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB). If so, I think he should read the ACB’s report ‘GM Cassava fails in Africa’.
I’m still keeping an open mind, but Mr Lynas hasn’t won me yet. GM is a minefield. Don’t believe everything you read.