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The War Against GM Farming: Um, Oops, Yeah, We Really Didn’t Mean That…


January 2013

I have long been a fan of genetically modified farming. I know, there are those who shriek in horror at the thought, but let’s face it, GM farming feeds the world. For instance, it has been estimated that upwards of 2.5 to 3 Billion people would have to die if we went to wholly organic farming. It’s not rocket science.  Humorously enough, it’s always those who push less productive farming who assume they won’t be amongst the one’s ruled not fit to live.  In fact, knowing a grocery store chain owner, I’ve been told that organic foods are a good way for big farming to separate you from your money. Actually me from my money too. My wife buys organic as much as she can. While I think it’s goofy, I love her and the extra money is worth it if she’s feels good for spending it.

That notwithstanding, via Power Line, comes word that one of the founding members of the War on GM Farming has issued an apology. What surprises me is that it’s a real, honest to goodness apology, not some “caught with the hand in the cookie jar” pap (kind of).  See for yourself:

“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.

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.

When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.

But this was still only the beginning. So in my third book The God Species I junked all the environmentalist orthodoxy at the outset and tried to look at the bigger picture on a planetary scale.

And this is the challenge that faces us today: we are going to have to feed 9.5 billion hopefully much less poor people by 2050 on about the same land area as we use today, using limited fertiliser, water and pesticides and in the context of a rapidly-changing climate.

Let’s unpack this a bit. I know in a previous year’s lecture in this conference there was the topic of population growth. This area too is beset by myths. People think that high rates of fertility in the developing world are the big issue – in other words, poor people are having too many children, and we therefore need either family planning or even something drastic like mass one-child policies.

The reality is that global average fertility is down to about 2.5 – and if you consider that natural replacement is 2.2, this figure is not much above that. So where is the massive population growth coming from? It is coming because of declining infant mortality – more of today’s youngsters are growing up to have their own children rather than dying of preventable diseases in early childhood.”

There’s much more in the full speech, here. Do check it out. Though it appears Mr. Lynas is still a global warming huckster, who knows, maybe he’ll come to his senses on that as well.  Somehow I doubt it, which brings us to my guess for the mea culpa in the first place…

For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change. I published my first book on global warming in 2004, and I was determined to make it scientifically credible rather than just a collection of anecdotes.

Now, if I had to guess, and that’s all I can really do because these folks are so rarely fully honest, Mark Lynas was catching flack for the shoddy science on the War on GM Farming and that was beginning to effect his income/believability on the equally (if not more so) shoddy science on Global warming – so he’s distancing himself from the one in hopes of saving the other.

The main point, and the reason that I wrote this post is to highlight exactly how shoddy much of the environmentalist movement usually is – and how easy it is to get one of these hoaxes to gain traction.  I think the best way to look at these things is like this:  If the solution is for some government entity to take your freedom, your basic rights and your cash, be skeptical – there’s a 99.5% chance you’re being shystered.


  1. elisariva says:

    I don’t know all of the ins and outs of GM. I have not considered it GM vs organic though. Organic is a very pure form, no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. My concern on GM is the molecular make up is altered. Farming conventionally (non-organic) can be done without GM seeds. Food can be washed. When a seed is modified to prevent bugs from eating the plant, I question what is in it. Repels insects but doesn’t harm humans? That is the branch if GM that concerns me.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Read the full transcript – he goes into that in pretty decent detail – the GM versions are actually safer. That’s really the joke.

    • bgddyjim says:

      “Repels insects but doesn’t harm humans”? They’re getting the genes from other plants… This is exactly the branch Lynas was talking about being safer. To do this by trial and error, rather than take a few genes over to the other plant IS WORSE. The same goes for Organic farming. The vast majority of pesticides are not chemicals – they’re naturally occurring. The pushers of organics have been lying (exactly like Michael Moore did) to get you to pay $8 for a bushel of apples that you should pay $4 for.

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