British environmentalist Mark Lynas has become something of a professional biotech (and nuclear) apologist after years of opposing GMOs. This past January, he gave a talk at the Oxford Farming Conference where he admitted to writing articles attacking GMOs despite having never read up on the scientific studies on transgene crops.
Now, following a year of championing GMOs as a vital technology that will help to feed the world, Lynas has come out in favor of GMO labeling—for the good of biotech.
In a talk at the Food Integrity Summit last Tuesday in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Lynas made the case for federal labeling laws to an audience largely made up of people in the soybean industry, which relies heavily on GMOs. But judging by the transcript of the speech posted on his website, Lynas wasn’t making all that transgressive of an argument—and there was plenty of red meat.
“And let there be no mistake: banning biotech is the explicit agenda of many pro-labelling activists,” he said. “They talk about consumer choice, but what they actually want is to remove all choice. They want what I call prohibition based on superstition.”
That superstition is addressed at length in Lynas’s talk, too. What it boils down to is that science-based logic says we should support, not fear, genetically modified foods. “There is as strong a scientific consensus on this issue as there is on many comparable issues like the science of climate change,” he says. And indeed, any health-based claims about GMOs made by the pro-labeling crowd have fallen flat; it’s the reason labeling campaigns are all focused on “the right to know.” It makes this a debate about transparency, not science.
And that’s where Lynas’ condescending argument for labeling comes into play. Rather than fighting democratic efforts in California and Washington—battles that make biotech look increasingly like it has something to hide—the industry should embrace labeling. The proposed approach is not dissimilar from the NSA declassifying more and more documents in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. Encouraging labeling would make the biotech industry look exceedingly transparent, and would help mitigate the perception that there are ghosts in the closest, according to Lynas.
To be clear, Lynas may support labeling, but he’s beyond dismissive in regards to the terms of the debate, calling it bad science, but good politics.
“So—it’s time to make a virtue out of a necessity,” says Lynas. “If enough people say that GMOs should be labeled, then labeled they must be. So let’s think how this can be done, and moreover how it can present some opportunities to shift this debate in a more sensible and science-based direction.”
If pro-labeling groups are honest about wanting consumer choice, and aren’t pursuing an ersatz ban disguised as regulation, this wouldn’t be a bad tact for anti-GMO activists to take too.
And while you may disagree with Lynas regarding who would come out on top if federal labeling was implemented, at least the opinions are dollars involved in choosing between GMO and non-GMO would all belong to one person: the consumer.