Genetically modified (GM) crops like the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant being developed in the Philippines will have far-reaching benefit on biodiversity and prevent people’s exposure to health risks from chemicals.
Scary stories against GM is being spread by supposed environmentalists.
But GM really has really been the answer to preserving millions of hectares of land and of biodiversity, according to Mark Lynas, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies.
He just visited last week the University of the Philippines Los Banos where the Bt eggplant is being developed at the Institute of Plant Breeding.
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, Lynas confessed.
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, three billion hectares of land have been saved by GM due to its 300 percent production increase.
This is even if there are three billion more people to feed between 1961 and 2010 that needed additional calories from 2,200 to 2,800.
“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,” said Lynas as a visiting research associate last January 3 at the Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment.
GM nitrogen efficient crops that are being developed use less fertilizer. GM drought-tolerant crops need less water. All these are beneficial for the environment.
“GM improves biodiversity because it affects only target pests,” said Lynas.
The protein gene in the GM crops Bt corn and Bt eggplant is not toxic to human, only to the pest corn borer. Humans do not have the receptor that corn borers have in order to absorb the protein gene.
There is a major study in China published in Nature Journal indicating “there are more birds, more insects, more of the whole food chain in GM field than the one using conventional crops.”
“GMO should stand for genetically modified and organic. It can make organic farming successful because you don’t need chemicals,” said Lynas,
There is prevailing negative perception on GM’s safety due to intensive campaign against it by groups like Greenpeace, Lynas said. He himself was a former pro-environment and anti-GM advocate who just admitted to realizing his fault.
However, for almost two decades, GM crops have proven to be safe.
Farmers no longer have to be exposed to pesticide sprays. This is as much as consumers no longer have to fear intake of eggplant dipped in a bucketful of pesticides just before harvest.
“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.
Hundreds of scientific data show evidence of GMO’s (genetically modified organism) not causing cancer.
“Two to three trillion meals have been eaten by human in North America and wherever containing GMOs. There’s nothing to substantiate the (negative) health impact (accusations) against any GMO products– not one, even headache or stomachache,” he said.
The development of the GM proVitamin A-rich rice (Golden Rice) of the Los Banos-based International Rice Research Institute will enable developing countries to prevent numerous deaths associated with Vitamin A deficiency (VAD).
Lynas cited 6,000 children die a day globally from VAD. He stresses that VAD is an immunodeficiency concern.
“People can die from diseases identifiable as Vitamin A deficiency-related. They can die from diarrhea or pneumonia or anything because their immune system is compromised. As far as I know, more people die from Vitamin A deficiency-related causes than from malaria, HIV or AIDS, or TB. It’s really a world killer,” he said.
Like how GM crops are highly regulated, organic crops should be regulated.
It was organic crops that caused the death in 2011 of 51 people in Germany from ingesting E.coli-contaminated beansprouts from an organic farm as confirmed by Lower Saxony’s Agriculture Ministry.
“Organic has killed a few hundred people. GM has killed no one. Imagine headlines if 50 people would have died in Germany because of some GM. It would have been worldwide fear–like nuclear power. It would have been worldwide hysteria,” he said.
Regulation should be imposed on organic crops because one can die from natural causes “very easily from bacteria, from water, or contamination of manure during harvest.”
Farmers should be given the choice to plant GM crops if their welfare will be looked after.
Anti-GMO groups do not really support the welfare of Filipino farmers.
“Whereas they (anti GMO campaigners) claim to support farmers, they’re ideological campaigners. They’re anti-globalization, anti-multinational corporations. But (GM developer) Monsanto is not a very big company. On a global scale, Apple and Samsung are bigger. You shoudn’t be anti-multinational if you use iPhone, said Lynas.
“Campaigners claim to represent the Filipino perspective. But it’s really European perspective which is pro organic, traditional agriculture. They raise a lot of money in Europe.”
Even in the United Kingdom, farmers are petitioning for a lifting of a ban on planting GM crops as GM is more profitable for them, said Lynas, a British.
It is before 300 British farmers that Lynas received his applause for his lecture in Oxford University that went viral in web and print publications.
“Farmers (National Farmers’ Union of UK) are very angry about this (ban). Farmers want to have a choice– to have the best productivity, the best yield to maximize return,” he said.
It is unfortunate that the organic movement lobby to block that freedom of choice.
Traditional farming keeps farmers in poorer countries in poverty.
The destruction of the Golden Rice crops under trial in BicoI early this month is a criminal act and is anti-humanitarian.
“That’s like burning down a hospital or stopping vaccines from reaching children,” he said.
Even the UK government wants to allows its farmers to plant GM. But the European Union, as influenced by rich countries like France, prevent its member countries from planting it.
“The French government has a breach of European law by maintaining a ban on GM which has no scientific basis. That ban is illegal.”
GM crops help farmers the most in raising their income.
“GM (technology) is cheaper. If the biology of the crop can protect crops from pests, that’s more beneficial to farmers. That’s cheaper than spraying,” he said. “Everywhere , when farmers are given a choice, they adopt it quickly. They can have high yield even if they pay a little more for seeds.”
European countries may have been the forerunning advocates of a GM-free world or of organic movement. But poorer countries have a different situation with its many malnourished children.
In africa the major food security crops like banana and cassava have threats of diseases. You can go in the countryside, and I have seen you can find people who are hungry. The kids are skinny, they’re malnourished because the crops they’re buying in the field have diseases,” he said.
But Greenpeace has succeeding in seeking a ban against GMO in African countries, particularly Kenya, that need it most.
“People from rich countries can pay more for organic. But traditional agriculture is not a kind of agenda that would be (favorable) for a developing country. (It’s GM that) will develop the country to become economically successful,” said Lynas.
Lynas is the author of several books. His book “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” was awarded by the World Society of Science Books. The National Geographic made it into a film.
While writing another book, the “God Species” in 2011, attempting to become consistent in his position on the science of climate change, environment, and food production, he came to a realization that GM is the answer to food shortage problems.
For any questions, here is Mr. Mark Lynas’s email address firstname.lastname@example.org; for other requests (interview with local authorities), kindly call Ms. Jenny A. Panopio, network administrator, SEARCA-Biotechnology Information Center, 0917-837-1176 or text-call 0916-266-6604 and 0921-338-3816.
About Mark Lynas’s Turnaround to Support GM
Mark Lynas holds a degree on history and politics from the University of Edinbergh. Having been an environmentalist, he has initially supported the anti-GM campaign as most environmentalists oppose GM. He had been involved in vandalizing activities against GM.
He has supported declarations of scientists on climate change. His book “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” was so acclaimed by scientists such that some scientists told him he must have known a lot about climate change more than they did.
He 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.
“The scientific community was making the same kind of strong statements on biotechnology being safe as much as they were saying climate change being real.”
On Greenpeace’s Nature of Operation, Anti Multinational Corporation
“Greenpeace is behaving like a religious institution, not as a scientific institution. They have an ideology on GMOs. They won’t consider facts and evidence.
When I was anti GMO, I didn’t look at the evidence like that. I was very ignorant about the technology. I didn’t understand the science. I didn’t understand about DNA or molecular biology or genetics or anything because it’s quite complicated, but I was very well informed about climate change science and about every aspect of natural science.
You should find out about Greenpeace’s funding. They have a kind of agenda that will not develop the country. It’s harmful to the interest of developing countries. It’s the same even in the anti GMO operation in Africa like that of Oxfam. They’re all funded from Europe. The NGO people have the best cars. They don’t think of the farmers.
They need to be forced to be transparent about their funding. They should publish their donors– not just the anti GMO. But all NGOs should be transparent, not only the anti biotech.
Anti GMOs want to promote traditional agriculture – to stay behind on old-fashioned agriculture like a museum. Greenpeace is a corporation with a brand name.
The antis are spreading scary stories in the media against GM, and promoting anti science on food with money that come from Europe. That’s what makes me furious and angry.
If the people from my country make money and claim to be addressing poverty because my country is giving money, what they’re doing is just worsening poverty and keeping farmers in poverty by denying them access to better technologies.
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.”
On Greenpeace, Science, Climate Change and GM
Lynas has this to say about Greenpeace’s position on climate change:
“Greenpeace is pro science in climate change, but anti science in biotechnology. Climate change is really based on the science. You can’t see it. It’s not like you’re experiencing it. Even if it includes some appreciation of extreme weather or sea level rise, you can’t see it. Your personal experience is meaningless.
Only science can tell us about the global picture (of climate change based) on several areas for many decades. Only science can give us the theoretical Physics about CO2 (carbon dioxide) being a greenhouse gas or computer models that can project the future. Any fundamental understanding of reality of climate change has to come from a thorough understanding of science.
There’s a strong consensus, 99 percent, among science experts that climate change is real. But the same peoople agree that GM food is safe. So how can environmentalists like myself or Greenpeace have a way of supporting science and yet say the opposite of what the scientists are saying about GMO? So I changed my mind.”