I was wrong to campaign against GM crop trials
An environmental campaigner who led the fight against GM crops and trashed trial fields has apologised and said he was wrong, writes Peter Hall, Farming Editor.
Author and leading campaigner Mark Lynas got a standing ovation from 500 farmers and agricultural professionals at the Oxford Farming Conference after telling of his personal "road to Damascus" conversion.
Addressing the conference he said he wanted to start by apologising. "Here and up front I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option, which can be used to benefit the environment," he said.
As an environmentalist, he said he now realises he could not have chosen a more counter-productive path.
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"What happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? The answer is simple – I discovered science and in the process I became a better environmentalist."
When he first heard about the American company Monsanto developing GM soya he thought it was a corporation with a nasty track record putting something new and experimental into food without telling anybody.
Mixing genes between species seems about as unnatural as you could get – and it was bound to go horribly wrong, he thought.
He campaigned against GM, which organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth took up, and the fight extended to Africa and Asia where GM is still banned.
But it was an explicitly anti-science movement. "We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the building blocks of life and the Frankenstein food tag emerged," said Mr Lynas.
But he did some reading and discovered that one by one his cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than "green urban myths".
Mr Lynas was praised for his bravery by Newton Abbot farmer Anthony Rew, formerly the South West regional chairman of the National Farmers' Union.
"Here is an academic who has admitted he was wrong and you don't get many of them," said Mr Rew. "As soon as he saw the true science he realised how safe GM technology was – one of the ways forward for feeding the planet."