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GM technology needs ‘international myth-busting’ campaign

Environmentalist Mark Lynas urges critics to recognise that GM does not harm human health

Environmental activist and writer Mark Lynas has apologised for ripping up GM crops in the past and called for “international myth-busting” to raise support for the technology.

His remarks are part of growing affirmation of the benefits of genetic modification of plants.

Lynas claimed that he had helped start the anti-GM movement in the mid-1990s but that after years of reading scientific literature on GM he considered that the “debate is over”.

“We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe—over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm,” he said.

Lynas, author of the book ‘Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet’ and contributor to the 2010 Channel 4 programme, ‘What the Greens Keep Getting Wrong’, added that members of the anti-GM lobby “must know by now that [their views] are not supported by science”.

Lynas made the comments on 3 January in a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference, at which UK environment secretary Owen Paterson had earlier said that the government should make the case for the benefits of GM to the public.

Lynas called for “a major dose of both international myth-busting and de-regulation” on GM technology. He said that Rothamsted Research is continuing a GM wheat trial, which was opposed by campaigners when it began in May 2012, and is working on a GM omega-3 oilseed that could replace wild fish in food for farmed salmon.

“The wonderful Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave $10 million to the John Innes Centre to begin efforts to integrate nitrogen fixing capabilities into major food crops, starting with maize. Yes, Greenpeace, this will be GM. Get over it,” he added.

On the same day, Julian Little, the chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, claimed in a statement that “UK consumers have, until very recently, been denied a rational, fact-based public discussion on the role of GM and other agricultural technologies in the food chain”.

He said that his organisation “will continue to support the UK government and the growing coalition of organisations that recognise the need to for a sensible, fact-based approach to the use of GM and other agricultural technologies across Europe”.

Suggestions for improving the standing of GM crops have also been made in several submissions to the now-closed call for evidence relating to the government’s development of an agri-tech strategy, which is due early this year. One recommended a government-led communications campaign; another said that the UK should attract multinational companies to develop GM in the UK.

In a statement the Soil Association, which represents organic farmers, suggested that it is not about to give up its anti-GM stance.

“The UK government’s own farm-scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife. US government figures show pesticide use has increased since GM crops have been grown there because superweeds and resistant insects have multiplied. Lynas, Paterson and other GM enthusiasts must beware of opening floodgates to real problems like this.”