Genetically modified (GM) crops, like the Philippine-developed Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant, will play major role preserving biodiversity and millions of hectares of forestland all over the world, a pro-environment and former anti-GM advocate said.
Mark Lynas, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies, said that GM crops like the Bt eggplant would have far-reaching benefit on biodiversity, and prevent people’s exposure to health risks from chemicals.
“Scary stories against GM are being spread by supposed environmentalists. But GM crops has really been the answer to preserving biodiversity,” he said.
Having been an environmentalist, he has initially supported the anti-GM campaign as most environmentalists oppose biotech crops. He had also been involved in vandalizing activities against GM crops.
Lynas confessed that his search to promote biodiversity has been a top reason that prompted his “conversion,” so to speak, to GM crops from having been just an environmentalist.
“Biodiversity is enhanced by planting GM crops. Less land will be required to be cultivated if yield is high. As crop yield can be raised by at least 20 percent, habitat for biodiversity is enhanced through GM,” Lynas said, citing a Jesse Ausubel-led Rockefeller University research.
From 1961 to 2010, the environmentalist said that GM has saved over three billion hectares of land due to its 300-percent production increase. This even if there are three billion more people to feed between 1961 and 2010.
“Three billion hectares is equivalent to two South Americas. There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yield. Nor would there be any tigers in India or orangutans in Indonesia,” he said.
Lynas acknowledged that there is prevailing negative perception on GM’s safety due to intensive campaign against it by groups like Greenpeace. He himself was a former pro-environment and anti-GM advocate who just admitted to realizing his fault.
He said that for almost two decades, GM crops have proven to be safe.
“I was surprised to find out GM’s environmental impact is good. So why are environmentalists campaigning against it? Bt eggplant is a pesticide-free crop. It can reduce use of insecticides which are obviously an environmental and health problem. Greenpeace is insisting farmers must continue using toxic chemicals,” said Lynas.
He also belied claims that genetically modified organism can cause cancer, noting that hundreds of scientific studies found no substantial health impact in eating GMOs.
“GMO should stand for genetically modified and organic. It can make organic farming successful because you don’t need chemicals,” he added.
Freedom of choice
Lynas said that it is unfortunate that the organic movement lobbies to block that freedom of choice.
He stressed that farmers should be given the choice to plant GM crops if their welfare will be looked after, adding that anti-GMO groups do not really support the welfare of Filipino farmers.
“Campaigners claim to represent the Filipino perspective. But it’s really European perspective, which is pro-organic and traditional agriculture. They raise a lot of money in Europe,” he added.
Lynas intended to write an anti-GM position in his book God Species, but he found no scientific references for this position.
It was in stark contrast to the hundreds of references he had supporting his position on climate change. He then finished God Species supporting GM, albeit in a brief chapter.
“I wanted to be consistent with science across the board. I wanted to have the strongest scientific basis to my claims. Rather than believe what was on the Internet of campaign groups, I had to really look at what people in science are saying about biotechnology but which is the opposite of what environmentalists are saying,” Lynas said.
On Greenpeace’s nature of operation and anti-multinational corporation campaign, Lynas said that the so-called environmental group is “behaving like a religious institution, not as a scientific institution.”
“They have an ideology on GMOs. They won’t consider facts and evidence,” he said, adding that, “Greenpeace is pro-science in climate change, but anti-science in biotechnology.”
Lynas also hit Greenpeace’s funding, saying that the groups has “a kind of agenda that will not develop and is harmful to the interest of developing countries.”
“You should find out about Greenpeace’s funding . . . they’re all funded from Europe. The NGO people have the best cars. They don’t think of the farmers,” he said.
Lynas added that Greenpeace should be forced to be transparent about their funding, by publishing their donors. “Greenpeace has a lot of money. They can pay court fines without a problem. It has a budget of $350 million per year. It spends more on PR [public relations]than any other,” he said.