MTPR

How Mark Lynas Got Converted To G.M.O. Food

Jul 4, 2015

Around the world, when it comes to food, few topics are more hot-button than genetic engineering. Mark Lynas, a researcher at the Cornell Alliance for Science and a journalist known for his books about climate change, has publicly undergone, in his words, a "conversion" regarding G.M.O. crops. Formerly an opponent of G.M.O. technology, he now embraces its potential.

Lynas's April 2015 article in the New York Times, "How I Got Converted To G.M.O. Food," cites the success of one Bangladeshi farmer whose successful adoption of a G.M.O. variety of eggplant has helped lift his family from poverty. About the trials of the Fruit and Shoot Borer-resistant eggplant in which farmer Mohammed Rahman participated, Lynas writes:

The stakes are especially high because Mr. Rahman is one of only 108 farmers in Bangladesh currently permitted to try out the new variety. Moreover, this is among the first genetically modified food crops to be grown by farmers anywhere in the developing world. Virtually every crop, in every other country, has so far been blocked.

Lynas continues:

After writing two books on the science of climate change, I decided I could no longer continue taking a pro-science position on global warming and an anti-science position on G.M.O.s.

There is an equivalent level of scientific consensus on both issues, I realized, that climate change is real and genetically modified foods are safe. I could not defend the expert consensus on one issue while opposing it on the other.

The Food Guys are intrigued by some of his arguments, but not convinced. "He sets up a false dichotomy between being pro-science and anti-G.M.O.," remarks Jon. Among letters to the editor responding to Lynas's article was one from Anna Lappé, co-founder of the Small Planet Institute:

Mark Lynas’s profile of one farmer in Bangladesh does not represent the facts on the ground about genetically engineered eggplant there. The trials of the new variety of eggplant have actually had very poor results: Genetic engineering did not protect plants from most pests and have led to crop loss and debt for farmers.

On the other hand, across Bangladesh and the broader region, farmers who are using agroecological principles, working with farmer-to-farmer networks like Navdanya in India, are achieving high yields with little to no use of chemical pesticides.

Jon observes: "He's being a little bit of a cheerleader here, even though he may not have had all the information he needed."

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 7/5/15 and 7/9/15. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays and again at 4:54 p.m. Thursdays, or via podcast.)