Mark Lynas hypes failed project in Bangladesh as example of GMO success
Pro-GMO campaigner Mark Lynas’s attempt in the New York Times to hype GMOs on the basis of the performance of GM brinjal (eggplant/aubergine) in Bangladesh was a spectacular mistake, given the dismal failure of the crop in that country.
A number of letters to the editor of the NYT point out this and other false and unscientific claims by Lynas (below).
Lynas is currently given a platform by the Cornell Alliance for Science, which is funded by the Gates Foundation and promotes GM. How many more misleading statements will we have to hear from him before he is recognised as a toxic asset even by Cornell and Gates?
Letters to the editor, New York Times
New York Times, 4 May 2015
Re “How I Got Converted to GMO Food” (Sunday Review, April 26):
Mark Lynas claims that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of consuming GMO plants. There is nothing intrinsically safe or dangerous when genes from distant species are introduced into plants. Each genetically modified food is a separate entity that must be independently and rigorously tested to ensure its safety.
Unfortunately, current United States regulations do not require such testing, and the majority of studies supporting the writer’s claims have either been funded or produced by industry. To even speak of GMO’s as a single entity that can be called “safe” to consume or good for the environment is entirely unscientific.
The writers are, respectively, chairman and president of the Council for Responsible Genetics. They are co-editors of the book “The G.M.O. Deception.”
To the Editor:
It’s hard to argue that, in the case of an impoverished Bangladeshi farmer, we should ban genetically modified eggplant that may markedly improve his livelihood. Here, science is being used in ways that improve farmers’ lives and, we hope, can spread better nutrition, food security and other benefits to third-world people.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits Roundup Ready corn, which is genetically modified solely so that Roundup, an herbicide manufactured by the same company (Monsanto) as the seed, may be sprayed directly on the crop. This is a reprehensible, profit-driven concept.
Let’s clarify that GMOs have their place, assuming there is a significant public benefit. But nobody benefits from Roundup Ready corn but Monsanto.
The writer works for the Sustainable Farming Association.
To the Editor:
Mark Lynas’s profile of one farmer in Bangladesh does not represent the facts on the ground about genetically engineered eggplant there. The trials of the new variety of eggplant have actually had very poor results: Genetic engineering did not protect plants from most pests and have led to crop loss and debt for farmers.
On the other hand, across Bangladesh and the broader region, farmers who are using agroecological principles, working with farmer-to-farmer networks like Navdanya in India, are achieving high yields with little to no use of chemical pesticides.
In my own reporting on food and agricultural issues, I’ve met farmers in Bangladesh, India, Brazil, Poland, Kenya, Mali and other countries around the world who are reporting the powerful results of ecological farming, using conventional breeding and traditional seed saving and sharing. Farmers are seeing their yields go up, while learning a way of farming that doesn’t lock them into dependency on seed and fertilizer companies half a world away or expose them to harmful chemicals in the fields.
Mr. Lynas’s Bangladesh visit was organized by the new Cornell Alliance for Science, funded by a $5.6 million grant from the Gates Foundation, that is promoting biotechnology, not dispassionately reviewing the science.
The writer is a founding principal of the Small Planet Institute.
To the Editor:
Mark Lynas is pro-science, as are we, but he ignores some vexing problems. Asserting that biotech is safe is like saying that electricity is safe. Genetic engineering can be used safely or stupidly. Scientists, corporations and government agencies try to avoid the latter, and regulators need strong scientific data to evaluate risks.
For example, many claim that genes from transgenic eggplant can be confined. In India, however, we recently found that eggplant can cross-pollinate with its closest wild relative (Solanum insanum), a roadside weed with edible fruits. Pollinating bees, seed dispersal and human intervention could allow engineered genes from eggplant to proliferate in episodes of “gene flow” that cannot be controlled.
Mr. Lynas also makes no mention of the regulatory, political and economic headaches that would ensue if open-pollinated Bt eggplant from Bangladesh is transported across national boundaries. Nor does he show respect for people who simply want to know whether they are eating GM food.
ALLISON A. SNOW
Dr. Snow is a professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University, and Dr. Davidar is a professor of ecology and environmental sciences at Pondicherry University in India.