The Risk-Monger

2013 has started out well. On January 3, Mark Lynas, one of the principal strategists and drivers behind the environmental activism against GMOs since the 1990s, apologised to the farming community. He admitted that the anti-GMO campaigns he had led, including crop destruction and the demonisation of scientists, were not science-based, often anecdotal, and, he confessed, counter-productive.

In his informative speech, he outlines how the fear-mongering was part of a politically motivated, anti-science movement, the success of which had taken him by surprise. Mr Lynas regrets the damage this campaign had done, the myths it had spread about GMOs and the risks the loss of such a valuable technological option may have on global food supply. For almost an hour, he stood before the conference of Oxford farmers, delineating the fictions he had been party to, expressing regret for his actions and openly apologising.

I have a great deal of respect for Mr Lynas, for the courage it took for him to make such a declaration and for the strength he will need to resist the oncoming attacks from NGO groups like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, who have a track record of eating their young before they stray. Activists had already started sharpening their knives against Mr Lynas for non-kosher comments he had made on green energy issues, referring to him as a straw man or a mutant ninja.

One need only recall how Greenpeace turned on one of its founders, Patrick Moore, for daring to criticise the organisation for losing its way. Campaign organisations are good at running campaigns, so it would be easier and more in their nature to run a personal smear campaign than to engage in a fruitful dialogue. Idealist-based organisations have a hard time with dissent, whether they are religious cults or environmental activists (or in Greenpeace’s case, both), listening to those they disagree with is painful, time consuming and deemed unnecessary. This is the democratic deficit NGO activists often suffer from – it is preferable to shout at someone you disagree with than to let them speak (something I had experienced firsthand in Brussels during the REACH chemicals regulation debacle). The UK Soil Association replied to Mr Lynas on the same day with more fear and anecdotes on GMOs, demonstrating this evident shortcoming in the skill of listening.

One watershed moment this speech should represent, is that regulators in the European Commission need no longer be afraid to push through evidence-based decisions on GMOs. Mr Lynas’ remarks should motivate regulators to call out the activists on the science behind their politically motivated campaigns. And as for the environmental demagogues in the European Environment Agency, Dr Gee and Dr Stanners, European Commission officials can safely ignore their precautionary principle activism after seeing consequences of their tactics so clearly outlined in Mr Lynas’ speech. January 3rd marks the moment the anti-GMO campaign has been declared wrong and regrettable, and we can all move on from that nonsense and address important steps in tackling real threats to global food supply.

Who am I kidding? The environmental industrial complex is far too big a ship to turn on a dime. There is too much at stake financially for organisations that have built up empires on rhetoric and have never considered facts as essential or necessary. The truths in Mr Lynas’ speech are nothing that a good communications campaign and some startling images can’t erase. Realistically, this is not the first time, nor will it be the last , that anti-GMO campaigners have been confronted by facts, only to change the subject or be blindly oblivious.

But there is something deeper at play here, and that is integrity. Mr Lynas has shown strength of character – to recognise a mistake, apologise and not make excuses. He has exhibited a human strength few of us mortals have, and has earned my respect. For other activist campaigners who have made judgements based on idealism and political belief rather than evidence, there are still opportunities to regain some integrity. The Risk-Monger is open to hearing your apologies for:

  • The thousands who die every day from malaria, based on your misguided campaigns against DDT
  • The CO2 fiasco behind your anti-nuclear campaigns, and the threat to access to energy that the renewable-based campaigns will bring
  • The anti-science chemical scare-mongering campaigns, including the recent, and ridiculous, anecdotal claims on certain endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • The threats to global food supply from campaigns for organic food as a solution to serious food scarcity issues

At the beginning of a New Year, the Risk-Monger can be forgiven for being optimistic. Anything is possible in 2013. After all, the year began with Al Gore selling his media company to the Qatari government (ie, Big Oil). It should be an interesting year.

Happy New Year!


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