Within days of legislation being introduced in U.S. Congress to require labeling of genetically modified foods, the co-founder of Europe's anti-GM movement was on the campus of Cornell University. This time, Mark Lynas had a much different spin on genetic engineering or genetic modified organisms, a key biotech tool.
Early this year, Lynas stunned the environmental and anti-GMO worlds by publicly apologizing for "demonizing" biotech. Following are excerpts from his remarks at the Cornell conference on biotech's role in adapting to global climate change. Warning: It's long, but fully loaded with facts.
I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.
This matters enormously. Technologies, in particular the various uses of molecular biology to enhance plant breeding potential, are clearly some of our most important tools for addressing food security and future environmental change.
History surely offers us, from witch trials to eugenics, numerous examples of how when public misunderstanding and superstition becomes widespread on an issue. Irrational policymaking is the inevitable consequence, and great damage is done to peoples' lives as a result.
This is what has happened with the GMOs food scare in Europe, Africa and many other parts of the world. Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.
The time has now come for everyone with a commitment to the primacy of the scientific method and evidence-based policy-making to decisively reject the anti-GMO conspiracy theory. We must work together to begin to undo the damage.