My Generation
Biotechnology, Amish and a Big Ol' Mea Culpa

Biotechnology, Amish and a Big Ol' Mea Culpa

British anti-biotechnology activist renounces his ways; former colleagues embrace their dogma and label him sell-out.

There's been a shift in the universe. Maybe you felt it, too?

Last week, Mark Lynas, former anti-GM activist, announced in a lecture at an Oxford farming conference that he was, well, wrong.

"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 said.

"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."

It's been called the biggest mea culpa in the history of journalism. I don't know about that, but certainly it could be the biggest mea culpa in this history of agriculture. Lynas wasn't just your average green-promoting consumer. He was militant. He threw pies in faces of scientists. He led the charge in Europe against genetically modified crops. In fact, if you're reading this today and you fear/despise genetically modified foods, it's a good chance you came to those conclusions thanks to Mark Lynas.

The best comparison Slate could make was to a scientist who in the early 2000s, suggested a link between vaccines and autism. He went on to research the idea and found absolutely no link, but by then, the damage was done. Despite his many studies and stories and lectures since, the vaccine-autism story carries on.

In agriculture, given the enormous energy that has been invested on both sides of the biotechnology debate, it is noteworthy for someone of Lynas' background to switch gears so starkly. Even then New York Times gave it press. And certainly, Lynas's former colleagues have shown up in droves in the comments on each of these stories, embracing their own dogma, rejecting the science, and labeling Lynas a sell-out. It remains, as yet, unsure to whom and for how much they believe he has sold out.

For my money, though, the best line was found in this comment: "But seriously: when you are getting lapped by the Amish in technology, you really have to wonder what the motivation is for people who are fear-mongering about the technology."


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