If you think Mark Lynas is full of it, you’re right, says Jonathan Matthews
Mark Lynas, the British author and ardent GMO promoter, has a talent for selling himself and his wares, even if they don’t bear close inspection.
His recent speech to this year’s Oxford Farming Conference began with him looking back to his appearance there five years earlier: “The 2013 speech really did change my life in ways I had never anticipated. I was accused of having been the global founder of the anti-GMO movement…”
That must have been quite a shock. Where on earth did such an outlandish idea come from? Could it perhaps have had something to do with Lynas telling his 2013 audience, “I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s”?
It can’t have helped that he’d made exactly the same claim just a month earlier, telling an audience in Norwich, “I really was one of the founders of the early [anti-GM] movement.”
In the light of these claims, can it really have been so surprising that some journalists described him as the “self-confessed founder of the anti-GM movement” who’d completely changed his mind and now supported GM? Or that media accounts of the Damascene conversion of the “father” of the anti-GM movement started popping up around the world? After all, it makes for a great story: Pope renounces Catholicism, Founder of the anti-GMO movement falls in love with GMOs. And Mark Lynas is far too PR-savvy not to have known it.
Of course, Lynas’s complaint about being accused of founding the anti-GM movement would have made more sense if he’d said he’d been accused of lying about founding the anti-GM movement. Because lying is exactly what he was accused of, not least by many of the leading figures in the UK’s environment movement during the ‘80s, ‘90s and noughties. They were so outraged by the fact he’d garnered bucket loads of publicity via his bogus founder claims that a score of them issued a joint statement pointing out: “These claims of Mark Lynas's importance in GM campaigns are not true.”
But no one among his receptive 2018 audience showed any signs of being aware of this, and having successfully turned himself from the perpetrator of the founder lie into its victim, Lynas finished his look back at his earlier speech by saying, “I don’t like to run away from a fight, so since then I’ve devoted myself pretty much full time to the GMO issue.”
Surely, though, the real reason Lynas has devoted himself “pretty much full time to the GMO issue” is that he’s been paid to do so? Before that, GM really wasn’t his big thing – climate change was, but as a result of his generating so much publicity for himself and GMOs with his repentant founder story, he was offered a full time position with Bill Gates’ GMO PR outfit at Cornell. Gates’ so-called Alliance for Science is in the business of hyping the benefits of GM crops, particularly for the developing world.
This makes it more than ironic that Lynas went on to tell this year’s Oxford conference, “I’ve visited numerous plant breeding labs in the last 5 years and spoken to a lot of plant scientists. I have yet to meet a single one, including those using the various techniques of genetic engineering, who claim that GMOs are going to feed the world or magically solve all our agricultural problems.”
So where does all that pro-GM hype we keep being bombarded with come from? Well, how about headlines like this from Lynas’s employer, the Alliance for Science: “GMO crops could help stem famine and future global conflicts”. That’s right, the magic of GMOs includes not just feeding the world but ending armed conflict!
If that makes you think Mark Lynas is full of it, then you’re right. The same guy who told his Oxford audience he wanted a GM “peace treaty” and to put an end to people calling each other shills, didn’t hesitate to call GMWatch “an industry shill for Big Organic” the moment we questioned his claims to founding the anti-GM movement.
This is reminiscent of another environmentalist turned GMO supporter, Patrick Moore – someone Lynas seems to have modelled his marketing on, though he strenuously denies it. George Monbiot reports a revealing email exchange with Moore: “At one point in our correspondence, he asserted, ‘I do not attack environmentalists, show me an example.’ It happened that on the same day he had sent an email to the green group GMWatch, in which he told them, ‘you are a bunch of murdering bastards.’ When I pointed this out to him, he told me ‘I made an exception for murdering bastards.’”
Of course, Lynas does occasionally row back on the rhetoric, as Pete Shanks points out with regard to GMO golden rice. Whereas Lynas once joined with Patrick Moore in accusing environmentalists of being the reason golden rice wasn’t “saving lives right now” and even falsely accused them of being responsible for the deaths of “tens of thousands of kids”, he now very graciously says it’s wrong to accuse them of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”.
But in case you think these rhetorical excesses are just a thing of the past, only a matter of weeks before he used his Oxford platform to denounce “unnecessary polarisation” and demand an end to “name-calling”, he was busy depicting concerns over glyphosate as “hysteria” that had a lot in common with “mob rule” and witch burning!
As one long-time observer of Lynas said of his Oxford speech: “It doesn’t genuinely feel like a ‘peace plan’ – more a new PR stance.” And get ready for a lot more PR posturing – the talented Mr Lynas has a new book to sell.