Swapping sides in GM debate

By Country News

A former radical environmental activist who made a stunning reversal on genetically-modified crops believes Australian farmers need access to the technology to help feed the world.

British writer Mark Lynas spent the 1990s railing against genetically-modified organisms, including wrecking GM crops and attempting to steal the famously-cloned Dolly the sheep.

But in 2013 he was ostracised from the movement he helped create after a shock ‘‘coming out’’ speech detailed why no longer opposed GMOs.

‘‘Allowing anti-GMO campaigners to dictate your agricultural policy is a bit like putting anti-vaxxers in charge of the health service — it can only do harm,’’ Mr Lynas said.

He is in Australia to promote his latest book explaining his shift, saying he couldn’t defend the scientific consensus on climate change without doing the same on GM crops.

Mr Lynas believes farmers can get help from GM crops to counter the impacts of the changing climate, including higher temperatures, droughts and erratic rainfall.

‘‘You can’t meet the challenge of increasing food supply or increasing productivity without being able to alter crop genetics,’’ he said.

While the Australian Greens maintain a policy calling for a moratorium on the further release of GMOs into the environment, Mr Lynas believes groups such as Greenpeace are softening their stance.

Mr Lynas expects this country’s Greens will look for a way to get on ‘‘the right side of science’’ by moderating the party’s position.

Recently-elected Liberal state governments in Tasmania and South Australia have promised to review the remaining moratoriums on GMOs in Australia.

But some remain opposed to the bans, with farmers able to charge premiums for marketing non-GM products.

Mr Lynas welcomes the increasingly marginal opposition to GMOs.

He said science had proved GMO foods were not bad for your health or likely to damage the environment.

‘‘The landscape is changing,’’ he said.

Critics say Mr Lynas has no scientific qualifications — which he accepts — and his research methods are flawed.

But he says opponents have become similar to climate change deniers, with a small minority of selective science employed to prove a point.

‘‘The consensus among the whole expert community is fairly rock solid on all of those issues,’’ he said.