I would much prefer to live a quieter life. However, following my apology for my former anti-GMO activism at my Oxford speech in January, I have been subject to a coordinated campaign of intimidation and hate, mostly via the internet.
I have a personal responsibility to help put these myths to rest because I was so complicit in initially promoting them. My activism has done real damage in the world.
I am now convinced that many people have died unnecessarily because of mistakes that we in the environmental movement collectively made in promoting anti-GMO fear. Following a decade and a half of scientific and field research, I think we can now say with very high confidence that the key tenets of the anti-GMO case were not just wrong in points of fact, but were in large parts the precise opposite of the truth.
This is why I use the term "conspiracy theory". Populist ideas about conspiracies arise spontaneously when powerful ideological narratives collide with major world events, rare occasions where even a tiny number of dedicated activists can create a lasting change in public consciousness.
Conspiracies can be deadly
Successful conspiracy theories can do real damage. In Nigeria, an outbreak of Muslim conspiracy theorizing against polio vaccination led to a renewed polio outbreak. it spread to 20 other countries just when the disease was on the brink of being entirely eradicated.
In South Africa, the HIV/AIDS denialist myth became official government policy, just as the anti-GMO denialist myth is official European Union policy today. Hundreds of thousands of people were denied life-saving anti-retroviral treatments and died unnecessarily.
Thousands died because the President of Zambia believed the lies of western environmental groups that genetically-modified corn provided by the World Food Programme was somehow poisonous. I have yet to hear an apology from any of the responsible Western groups for their role in this humanitarian atrocity.
Friends of the Earth was one of those responsible. Friends of the Earth Europe is still actively promoting GMO denialism in the EU in a new campaign called Stop the Crop.
Another well-known example is Golden Rice, genetically modified to contain high levels of beta carotene to compensate for the vitamin A deficiency. This deficiency kills hundreds of thousands of children around the world and blinds many more every year. One study on the prospects for Golden Rice in India found that vitamin A deficiency could be reduced by 60%, saving 1.4 million healthy life years.