Blaming the activists

March 2020

Once upon a time (actually 2012), the Westminster Government launched a GM spin offensive on the UK public. The tactic was to make GM a 'hot topic' which kept popping up in the news, despite nothing having actually happened. Part of this strategy seems to have employed the talents of writer and speaker Mark Lynas [1].

Lynas' qualifications are in history and politics, but he writes and speaks about science. He seems to be a man who needs the glamour and theatre of a cause to champion, and in his youth was happy to join anti-GM crop activists in 'decontaminating' GM field trials (or one at least, by his own account). He has even been, in his own words "accused of having been the global founder of the anti-GMO movement".

However, creeping around the countryside dressed in black on a dark night isn't glamorous or theatrical. Nor is unlawful activity lucrative for someone who earns his living from writing. (It's also been suggested Lynas' comrade crop-trashers didn't like him very much.) There's much more mileage for a talented writer in declaiming the excesses of biotech industry PR, and sharing in the bounty of its deep pockets. So, he swapped sides and devoted himself "pretty much full time to the GMO issue".

Lynas continues to tour the world as a professional GMO-promoter paid by powerful interests such as the Cornell University 'Alliance for Science', a biotech industry PR outfit with a veneer of respectability but dubbed a "PR campaign for the agrichemical industry". He doesn't say anything that hasn't been said before by the biotech lobby, but he's good at getting attention, and people listen to him. 

Another way of looking at this is that the biotech industry needs Lynas to repeat all their tired sound-bites and professional propaganda because a positive case for GM crops is not easy to make: 
"... 24 years after GM crops arrived on the market, the technology is still basically used to make industrial crops herbicide resistant (A remarkable 88 percent of the world's GM acres today contain herbicide-tolerant crops). The only other major application, using Bt genes for resistance to caterpillars, has shown only modest success. The actual impacts of other applications touted by industry are either minuscule (e.g., resistance to a virus in export-oriented papaya in Hawaii) or non-existent (e.g., Golden Rice, which is still in development after 26 years). Industry may insist it has the key to feeding the planet, but the National Academy of Sciences could find no evidence that GM crops have affected the growth of food production." (Stone).
Lynas' latest crusade is to save GM from the dark forces of activism. 

By keeping the public focus on anti-GM activists, the issue comes down to a fight between these deluded, backward-thinking, trashers of progress and the scientists, while serious concerns about the technology and the corporate interests involved are side-lined.

His first GM promotional piece for 2020 (via the Alliance for Science) took this side-lining a stage further: it announced an escalation in the war which anti-GM activists are apparently now waging on India's resource-poor farmers. The 'goodies' in this tale are described as a "farmers collective" engaged in acts of open civil disobedience by distributing illegal herbicide-tolerant GM cotton seed for the benefit of deprived farmers. The 'baddies' are a single private citizen who is waging a (very civilised) 'war' in the Indian courts.

What Lynas doesn't mention is that the grass-roots-sounding 'farmers collective' is an extremist free-market, ultra-libertarian fringe group with a history of working with biotech PR people, and it is under investigation by India's intelligence agencies for suspected links to some international seed companies and to a global investment firm. Nor does he mention that the reason herbicide-tolerant GM cotton hasn't been approved is that the Technical Expert Committee appointed by the Indian Supreme Court deemed it "completely unsuitable" in the context of the mixed-cropping systems used by resource-poor farmers.

The basis of Lynas 'war' is actually a legal instrument presenting supporting evidence of regulatory delinquency in the regulation of GMOs in India.


It appears that Lynas 'goodies' are just lawbreakers in league with the biotech industry; his 'baddies' are just one concerned person (who doesn't consider herself an activist) following due legal process; and that 'war' against resource-poor farmers is being waged to save them from being conned into using 'completely unsuitable' GM seed.

Note that the deluded, backward-thinking anti-GM activists are no longer only the enemies of science but have become worse: now they're the enemy No.1 of poor farmers. The role of the biotech industry and its massive PR/lobbying machine, which is as active in government as it is in flogging "completely unsuitable" (and illegal) seed to vulnerable parties, has been air-brushed out entirely.

Lynas' only credentials for his "amateurish rehash of common industry talking points" (Stone) seem to be a claim that once he was a deluded backward-thinking activist until he saw the biotech industry light (and possibly the inside of its wallet), and abruptly switched sides without explanation.

Readers of GM-free Scotland will be aware of scientists who switched sides in the opposite direction, but only after a careful analysis of the science. Check out, for example, Arpad Pusztai and Caius Rommens [2,3,4] and Belinda Martineau [5].


[1] WHEN NON-NEWS IS BAD NEWS - April 2013
[4] Caius Rommens, Pandora's Potatoes: the worst GMOs, ISBN 9781986600835
[5] Belinda Martineau, First Fruit, 2001, ISBN 0-07-140027-3


·         Mark Lynas, Activists escalate efforts to stop Indian farmers from using GMO seeds, Alliance for Science 8.01.20
·         Jonathan Matthews, India's intelligence agencies investigate corporate backers of group distributing illegal seeds, GM Watch 16.01.20
·         Colin Todhunter, Challenging the Flawed Premise Behind Pushing GMOs into Indian Agriculture, Global research, 17.01.20
·         Glenn Davis Stone, the Dubious Virtue of Apostasy: How a former activist saw the GMO light and is being amply rewarded for it,, 13.12.18
·         Mark Lynas, Speech to the Oxford Farming Conference 2018, 5.01.18

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