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Mark Lynas: GMO Convert? Or Hired Gun?

On January 3, Mark Lynas, British author of several books on global warming including Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, told a sold-out audience at the Oxford Farming Conference in Oxford, England, that he was sorry.

Sorry that he'd maligned genetically modified (GM) crops. Sorry that he'd "helped to start the anti-GM movement." Sorry that he'd "demonized" a technology that could be used to "benefit the environment."

That's right. An expert on global warming was now telling the world that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and GM crops, with their billions of tons of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, with their large-scale monocultures that leave food crops vulnerable to drought, pests and disease, are good for the environment.

Mainstream media reporters tripped over themselves to get the story out. Suddenly, the Mark Lynas "conversion speech" was major news. "An Environmentalist's Conversion," read the New Yorker. "Stark Shift for Onetime Foe of Genetic Engineering in Crops," said the New York Times.

Never mind that Lynas's past work has been almost exclusively on climate issues, rather than genetically engineered foods and farming. As detailed by Jonathan Mathews on Spinwatch, real leaders of the European anti-GMO movement scoffed at the notion that he was in any way a leader or founder. Never mind that his "conversion" was hardly news - he's been publicly praising genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for at least three years. The press fawned over Lynas's recantation.

How did a journalist, well-known for his work on climate change, become an impassioned advocate and spokesperson for the biotech industry? And an instant media star in the process? Is Lynas just a slick self-promoter willing to say anything for attention? Or did he sell his soul to the biotech industry?

Leaked Documents Link Lynas to Biotech Industry Lobby Group In 2011, leaked documents were obtained from the Brussels-based EuropaBio, the continent's "largest and most influential biotech industry group," detailing an intricate plan to fracture the European green movement in hopes of undermining its near unanimous opposition to the biotech industry agenda.

EuropaBio's members read like a who's who of multinational pesticide and biotech corporations notorious for endangering human health, polluting the environment and deceiving the public. Members include Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, BASF, Eli Lilly, and Dupont. According to the leaked documents, Mark Lynas was one of the biotech industry's most sought after "ambassadors" (i.e. undercover spokespeople).

The lobby group's plan was to recruit high-profile, non-affiliated, "ambassadors" like Lynas to lobby European leaders to adopt more GE-friendly policies. Designated spokespeople would have bestowed upon them an undeserved aura of independence and objectivity.

Lynas has denied being recruited by the lobby group. Yet his January public relations stunt may as well have come straight from the EuropaBio leaked playbook. Given the untruths woven throughout his "conversion" speech, can we believe him when he says he isn't shilling for Monsanto?

Discovering science? Or towing the biotech industry line?

Lynas's conversion speech was remarkable, coming from someone who calls himself an environmentalist and a firm believer in the human role in climate change. But then, perhaps his past history as a well-known environmental writer is just what made him so attractive to the biotech industry. Who better to trot out to the international media as a GMO convert, than a prominent expert on climate change?

After his earnest apology for his past involvement in the anti-GM movement, Lynas told listeners that, "This was also explicitly an anti-science movement." He claimed that the answer to his conversion was simple: "I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist." He even goes on to say: "For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change."

If we pin our hopes for the future of our environment and our climate on a Lynas-type environmentalist, we are all in trouble.

Lynas's speech is rife with bad science and biotech industry talking points. In his pre-conversion speech days, Lynas said he mistakenly believed that GM crops would result in an increase in the use of pesticides, but, he said, "It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide."

Not so, according to study after study, including the evidence-based GMO Myths and Truths study published in 2012 by Earth Open Source. According to the scientists behind GMO Myths and Truths, farmers applied 318 million more pounds of pesticides as a result of planting GM seeds over the first thirteen years of commercial use. In 2008, GM crop fields required over 26% more pounds of pesticides per acre (1 acre = 0.4 hectares) than fields planted to non-GM varieties.