The Flip-Flopper of the GMO Debate

No! On GMO! | Photo: asianfarmers/Flickr/Creative Commons License

For most people, the pro-GMO/anti-GMO debate isn't a clear-cut case of "good" vs. "evil." Nor should it be. As is the case with any technological advance that concerns things we're putting into our bodies, it is equally responsible to be excited about the prospects while also being skeptical of how it is being implemented.

In fact, the pro-Prop 37 stance that was constantly espoused on this blog wasn't so much about whether or not GMOs should be allowed in foods, but instead simply a call to allow information to find its way to the people. Informed consent, personal choice, that kind of thing. (That somehow a proposition detailing more transparency to the public failed in a vote by the same public doesn't make a whole lot of sense, other than proof of what an advertising budget can buy you.)

So, it's understandable that people would be conflicted about the whole issue. It also makes sense if you've looked at the various studies and stats and decided that having GMOs in your food is an evil and terrible thing that has to be stopped. AND it even makes sense if you plant your flag in the complete opposite camp, where you trust the FDA and believe that Frankenfish are going to be A-OK inside of your body. All of those opinions are legit, as long as you are making an informed choice (or, as far as the first position goes, an informed not-just-yet choice). Where it gets murky is when someone who was formerly firmly on one side of the debate crosses over to the other.

Which is the unique party-of-one where noted British author and environmental activist Mark Lynas currently sits.

As this profile in Bloomberg points out, Lynas has recently made one of the most dramatic shifts in position the food world has ever seen. Once one of the leading anti-GMO spokesfolks, during a recent talk at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas delivered an apology for his role in the movement:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, 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.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

Throughout the rest of his apology, Lynas admits that the reason the anti-GMO movement is around, in general, is just because a predisposition of mistrust for large food corporations like Monsanto. Lynas describes a vilifying of GMs in general without actually looking at the studies involved:

This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag - this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn't realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein's monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.

As you can imagine, this little apology certainly did not go over well in the anti-GM world, the worst reaction coming from environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva, who compared Lynas's new opinion to saying that rapists should have the freedom to rape. (Which, I mean, yikes, that certainly isn't helping the cause any.) Michael Pollan, meanwhile, responded a bit more reasonably by simply reiterating that GMOs need to be tested further before being unleashed onto an unsuspecting public. In other words, besides Lynas's shift, not a whole lot has changed in the general debate.

While it's certainly always ideal in any battle to get someone to cross sides and change their allegiance, it is also necessary to fully vet the Benedict Arnold-ish flip-flopper before simply believing everything they're saying. Sure, their shifting stance might mean they've simply come to their senses after taking a cold, hard look in the mirror. But it also means that their point of view is malleable enough that we have to think about exactly what the causes behind the change are.

Which is all a nice way of saying: Just who the heck is paying Lynas's checks anyway?

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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GMO Foods and its never ending controversy is in lot of buzz. Government should involve people in it before taking any steps on that topic.