Remember all the warnings about genetically modified organisms? They’re bad for us; they harm the environment; there is too little oversight; they fail to increase yields; and they will do little to help feed the world.
GMOs are plants and animals whose DNA has been modified by genetic engineering. The process has allowed researchers to develop corn that can survive drought, soybeans that stand up to weed killer, virus-free papayas, and potatoes that don’t bruise — in short, countless varieties of crops that yield more and cost less to grow. That’s good news for farmers and for our food supply.
The widespread commercial use of GMOs in the U.S. began in 1996. By 2010, Americans were reading reports about the dangers of these so-called Frankenfoods. Leery environmentalists led protests and called for boycotts here and across the industrialized world. Their detailed claims included dire predictions that genetically modified plants would destroy ecosystems and alter human DNA. They warned that GMOs would cause cancer, autism, and a host of other ailments. Some of the more bizarre claims warned that governments were using GMOs to reprogram and control their citizens.
Even though the scientific community has repeatedly stressed there is no basis for these fears, hysterical reports and overly concerned citizens spurred activist groups to disrupt countless crop trials and destroy research facilities. Eco-warriors succeeded in causing millions of dollars in damages and countless hours of lost research.
In one of the more notorious cases, the environmentalist group Greenpeace waged an ongoing campaign in the Philippines to prevent the development of “golden rice” — a crop that had been modified to prevent vitamin A deficiency, which kills and blinds hundreds of thousands of children yearly.
Environmental activist and science writer Mark Lynas became infuriated by the Philippine government’s attempt to avert the blame for the destruction from Greenpeace to area farmers.
For years, Lynas had been one of the most outspoken eco-warriors in the fight against GMOs. His biggest targets were companies like Monsanto and Syngenta — leaders in developing genetically modified crops. But several years ago, he began to realize he was wrong. In 2013, he outraged activist friends and colleagues by speaking at a British farming conference and apologizing for helping “to start the anti-GMO movement.”
This week, Lynas’ lastest book, “Seeds of Science: Why We Got It So Wrong on GMOs,” was released. The book reports that almost all warnings made over the past decades about the altered foods have been completely debunked.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an essay from Lynas’ new book. In it, the author says he realizes now that the biggest problem isn’t that so many countries have banned GMO use; what’s far worse is “that the anti-GMO campaign has deprived much of the world of a crucial, life-improving technology — and has shown the readiness of many environmentalists to ignore science when it contradicts their prejudices.”
According to Lynas, biological protections engineered into GMO crops have reduced use of insecticides and herbicides by 37 percent. Thanks in part to GMOs, the once ever-present threat of famine has been nearly eliminated.
Lynas is emphatic that scientists be allowed to continue their all-important research without obstruction. He warns that researchers “shouldn’t be hindered by those who, having already filled their bellies, have the luxury to indulge in righteous, ill-informed campaigns against promising new food technologies.”
We couldn’t agree more.