Realizing the Vision

Utne Reader Visionaries share their latest projects, ideas, and visions for the future.

The Science of Sustainability

1/29/2013 3:57:02 PM

Tags: Raj Patel, Mark Lynas, Genetically-Modified Food, Environment, Sustainability, Science

 Organic Corn photo by Ivan Walsh  


Raj Patel headshotRaj Patel is a writer, academic, and activist. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and the New York Times and international bestseller, The Value of Nothing. He has also published widely in the academic press, with articles in peer-reviewed philosophy, politics, sociology, science, and economics journals. Patel is currently working on Generation Food, a multimedia project about reinventing our global food system. He was named an Utne Reader Visionary in 2009.
 



Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, longtime anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas changed his mind about genetically modified foods. “As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path,” said Lynas at the Oxford Farming Conference. “I now regret it completely.”
What caused the change of heart? Lynas “discovered science.” While outlets like Slate reported this news with approval, Raj Patel questioned Lynas’ assumption that science and sustainability are mutually exclusive. Below is Patel’s response, reposted with permission from his blog.  

It was such a non-issue that I really didn’t want to write about it at all. I didn’t know who Mark Lynas was and didn’t know that he had changed his mind about genetically modified crops from being an opponent to a fan. But, clearly, it was a slow news week. The killing and the rape and the corporate crime and the climate change had been successfully reported. So a range of news outlets decided to give Lynas the air time he wanted, following this speech.

Frankly, there’s not much to read. Mark Lynas opposed GM crops because he thought they were bad but now he has ‘discovered science’, and that makes him a better environmentalist and a supporter of the pesticide industry’s sale of genetically modified crops and it possibly makes him regret studying politics and modern history.

In general, it’s a good thing that people discover science. It usually means they’ve left behind dogma in favour of peer review and data. In this piece, scientist John Vandermeer welcomes Lynas to science, and looks forward to Lynas’ reading more science in the future. After all, some of the most reasoned arguments against GM crops come from those who have embraced science for far longer than Lynas. GM Free Cymru and The Union of Concerned Scientists note, though, that Lynas hasn’t really given up on the dogma, seeming to have swapped his old prejudices for the kind of pro-business platform that’ll keep him flush with industry conference honoraria for the next year or two.

There’s really not much more to be said. It could be that Lynas will, like Bjorn Lomborg, noisily muddle from one position to another, trailing the scientific debates by a decade, but anticipating the winds of conservative thinking by a month or two. Ultimately, though, it matters little. While Lynas embarks on his journey from knee-jerkery to scientific neophyte to, we hope, scientific sophisticate, science and sustainable farming are demonstrating both that GM crops are irrelevant in feeding the world, and that they’re the worst among many far better alternatives. Which is a far more interesting story to report than that Mark Lynas has read a book.

Image: Organic corn, photo by Ivan Walsh, licensed under Creative Commons.
 



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Post a comment below.

 

JOHN POZZI
2/1/2013 11:00:23 PM
Global Resource Bank @ www.grb.net earns everyone economic security,

Betty Barrett
2/1/2013 3:54:19 PM
I read the very long speech/statement by Mr. Lynas and while trying my best to give him an impartial ear and fair opportunity to make his case, it was a tedious experience. He did little to convince me of GMO safety and nothing toward changing my mind about GMO's in general. We hear everyday of food safety issues, I receive daily/weekly alerts from the FDA about new food recalls and warnings. (You can get this free online). The reason I want to get them is because in our family we deal with celiac disease, severe food allergies, crohn's disease... all in my children, What has changed in one generation? From a healthy set of parents to their children and their off spring we have seen a drastic change in health and quality of life. The only vectors for all of us is the food we eat, the environment we are surrounded by and the gene pool we share. Hypoglycemia, cancer, epilepsy, cerebral palsey. So many things for one family to deal with and yet what is the cause for this endless stream of health concerns? We do think that food has played a role, along with the environmental pollutants and genetic makeup combined in our family. Mr. Lynas may think that GMO's are safe, he can eat all he wants and good on him, but I would like to think that those of us who are battling these upswings in health concerns can be free of that risk if we choose not to go along. Clean sources of foods is one of the top priorities in our collective family homes...no contamination is a motto we have to live by. Gene splicing for us could some day become a killing component of an innocent looking slice of apple.



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