GM Free Cymru

Lynas was wrong, wrong, and wrong again. Will he now retract his Oxford speech?

As we all know, Farmers Weekly Interactive has taken great pleasure in giving as much space as possible to our friend Mark Lynas and his now infamous Oxford Farming Conference speech. I prepared a short piece for submission to the journal and asked them to publish it. They refused, and asked me to resubmit something as a letter instead. There was no way that I was going to agree to that, since I would have had to chop an already short piece (around 800 words) in half. So here is my letter, the article and the supporting references.


To The Editor Farmers Weekly Interactive

2nd March 2013

Dear Editor,

I am mystified by your ongoing support for GM crops and foods, in spite of the accumulating evidence that they bring no benefits to farmers, and that consumers and retailers neither want them nor need them. I am also troubled by your apparent conviction that opponents to GM are hysterical luddites who know nothing about science, and that only those who favour GM crop plantings are "guided by the science." That is an absurd proposition, and you must be aware that the anti-GMO position is underpinned by a vast range of material in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and that it is subscribed to by hundreds of professional scientists who know what they are talking about. Your promotion of the Mark Lynas speech in Oxford plays into your agenda very well -- but sadly his speech was full of misinterpretations, half truths and downright lies, and I hope it is not your editorial policy to allow or promote falsehoods. I dare to hope that you seek to find some sort of balance in your coverage of controversial issues. Will you please therefore publish the following short piece, in order to restore some balance to the GM debate?

I know that space is limited, and that you probably have no room for my appended notes, but I add them so that you as editor can check out what I am saying. (In contrast, Lynas has never, as far as I can discover, provided citations to back up the assertions made in his speech.) If you accept this short piece for publication, I would expect you to adhere to good journalistic practice and to publish it "clean" with no response or "last word" from Mark Lynas -- although I would of course fully expect that he and his friends might wish to post comments in the usual way.

I look forward to hearing from you.

With best wishes

Dr Brian John

Lynas was wrong, wrong, and wrong again. Will he now retract his Oxford speech?


Brian John

When Mark Lynas gave a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference on 3rd January, this journal gave it considerable coverage -- no doubt because it tuned in perfectly with its own long-standing campaign in favour of GM crops and foods. Lynas's speech was printed in full, and was flagged as "passionate and courageous." There was even a strange piece about "hate mail" being sent to Lynas by anti-GM activists (although he later admitted that he had received just one aggressive message), just to reinforce the point that he was a victim being attacked by hysterical and unpleasant opponents. A link was provided to the video of the Lynas speech, just to encourage people to watch it.

Well, I value the freedom of the press as much as anybody, and will defend the right of a journal to mount campaigns on behalf of those "good causes" which might be of interest to its readers. But I also dare to hope that journal editors will exercise some restraint and editorial control over what is published, and will check that when a speech (for example) is published in full, it is reliable and measured rather than being an emotional and unsupported rant. This brings me to the Lynas speech. It did not receive great coverage in the UK, because as one commentator put it, Lynas is no more qualified to talk about GM than the average man in the street. But it was flagged up globally by the GM industry and its friends in the media, not because it was reliable but because it was a "human interest" story of an environmental activist who had encountered science and who had had a dramatic conversion from anti-GM campaigner into GM evangelist. Sadly, this journal played a considerable role in perpetrating the myth that Lynas's conversion was underpinned by sound science -- and on that basis it is culpable, because Lynas's understanding of GM science is so poor as to be risible.

Many scientists have now looked at Lynas's speech and have found it to be full of half-truths, misrepresentations and lies. They have communicated their criticisms to Mr Lynas himself, and as far as I know he has failed to respond directly, choosing rather to use standard diversionary tactics by moving away from science into politics and economics (about which we hope he might know a little more). These are just some of the key points from his speech which are factually incorrect:

1. The early anti-GM campaign was explicitly anti-science. Wrong.

2. GM farming requires fewer inputs. Wrong.

3. Terminator Technology never happened. Wrong.

4. GM is safer and more precise than conventional breeding. Wrong.

5. GM "just moves a couple of genes". Wrong.

6. Gene flow between species happens all the time. Wrong.

7. The GM regulatory system imposes such high costs that it stifles development. Wrong.

8. GM crops benefit the environment. Wrong.

9. GM wheat trialled in Australia gives a 30% yield increase. Wrong.

10. There has never been a single substantiated case of harm associated with GM. Wrong.

11. Golden Rice is healthier than conventional rice. Wrong.

12. There is a rock-solid scientific consensus on GM. Wrong.

13. The Irish Green Party killed the GM potato project in Ireland. Wrong.

14. Greenpeace triggered a media panic in China over Golden Rice. Wrong.

15. The GM-free policies in Scotland and Wales are based on "medieval superstition". Wrong.

I could go on, but won't, out of sympathy for a poor deluded soul. I will accept that some of the things that he considers to be truths, and which I consider to be lies, are down to interpretations and partial understandings of parts of the literature. We all cite the things that are most convenient to our arguments. But I will ask some questions of Mr Lynas, which he must answer if he really does (as he claims) have a profound respect for science and the facts. Will he now acknowledge that much of his speech was based upon unreliable and biased information which must now be corrected? Will he now revoke his speech, or at the very least issue an up-dated version which shows a greater respect for the truth? And will he take steps to remove the speech, in its several versions, from the web, rather than allow his misrepresentations and untruths to continue in circulation and to influence many readers who may be even less well informed than himself? We are told that Mr Lynas is a seeker after truth, and we now await decisive action on his part so that he can correct the damage which he has done to the GM industry and -- in particular -- to his own reputation.

NOTES (not intended for publication -- available on request)

The following information (along with many other references) has been used in demonstrating the unreliability of Lynas's key points:

1. In the early anti-GM campaign (prior to 2003) many of the protests were carefully nuanced and well supported scientifically. Protest groups analysed and questioned scientific assumptions in a highly responsible fashion:

2. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years -- by Charles M. Benbrook Environmental Sciences Europe, Vol. 24:24 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-24, 28 September 2012.

3. Terminator Technology was developed, but not introduced into commercial varieties. Research has continued. It is still available for use if USDA and Delta Pine see fit.

4. GM is clearly LESS precise than conventional breeding.

5. Lynas's statement is nonsensical.

6. Gene flow of the type seen in GM plant breeding is quite unique. It does not happen spontaneously in nature.

7. The requirements of the regulatory system make up just a small part of the total cost of bringing a GM variety to the marketplace. At least 75% of costs are incurred under other headings.

8. Even the flawed UK farm scale trials showed that GM crops were harmful to the environment.

9. There is no verified field trial or published report to support this figure.

11. Golden Rice was not bred to be healthier, and nor is it. GoldenRice_english_final_ger.pdf Banking/Golden-Scare.html
Clinical Trials. 2008

12. There is huge disagreement and debate about GM in the science community; if anything, scientific opinions are more polarised than ever.

13. Opposition to the GM potatoes inIreland was and is broad-based.

14. The Golden Rice Project was its own worst enemy, and faced great opposition from scientists and protest groups well before Greenpeace became involved.

15. The Scottish and Welsh policies are science-based, and have evolved over many years of research and debate.