Thursday, January 24, 2013


Scientists respond to Mark Lynas

Responses to Lynas by Indian scientists 1."It is the scientists who are asking for regulation and precaution" 2."In science, we go by evidence"
NOTE: Although Mark Lynas's recent speech has had very little media coverage in the UK, where it went barely reported outside of the farming press, in India he has been all over the press and is even reportedly being flown in to conference there as an "eminent person". Here are two responses by Indian scientists to all the fuss. 
A key element in the reception that Mark Lynas has obtained is his claim to having been a founder of the anti-GM movement in 1995. But this is completely untrue, even as regards the UK. Here's a telling comment that Dr Sue Mayer, who was science director at Greenpeace from 1990-1995, has sent to Mark Lynas: 
"Hello Mark, I was part of the anti-GM movement from 1990 onwards (ie before 1995), first at Greenpeace and then when I started GeneWatch UK. I am not usually one to make claims for myself but I think I can lay claim to having been one of the leaders of the campaign in the UK thoughout the 1990s and until 2007 when I left GeneWatch. It's strange that although we did speak on the phone once in the late 90s we never met and I missed the fact that you helped start the anti-GM movement..!! No doubt you did attend some rallies and workshops and did some direct action, but not help start the anti-GM movement in any significant way. I think this is a very misleading claim and you should feel ashamed of yourself. I wouldn't normally worry about people puffing themselves up like this but I am concerned that you are letting this be used to promote yourself and the biotech industry. Maybe you should think this self aggrandisement through a bit?" --- --- 1."It is the scientists who are asking for regulation and precaution" Prasanna Mohanty Governance Now, January 21 2013
*GM controversy: In conversation, Suman Sahai, geneticist, Padma Shree awardee and winner of 2004 Borlaug Award for contribution to agriculture and environment
What do you think of environmentalist Mark Lynas’ sudden change of heart – from being an anti-GM crusader to a pro-GM crusader? It is a renewed propaganda push to create goodwill around GM crop. This is a product that very large corporations are trying to sell. India is a very particular target because of large scale rejections (of GM crop) in Europe, many parts of Africa and Latin America. For these corporations, there are only two big potential markets – India and China. Everybody knows it is impossible to influence Chinese policy because they are very determined about what they want and what not. India is perceived as a soft target with a big market and therefore a huge amount of propaganda is directed towards India and Indian policy making.
What is your stand on promoting GM crops in India? As a scientist, geneticist, this is my subject. It is the scientists who are asking for regulation and precaution right from the beginning. The (GM) industry is trying to cut corners on regulation because adequate bio-safety testing costs money. It is my firm belief that had this technology been purely in public sector it would still be in the laboratory. It would only come to market after it was sufficiently and properly tested.
If you want to engage in science and technology that has a downside – any potential risk of the GM product having an allergenic component – but potential for benefits, then you have to be super careful to evaluate safety. --- --- 2."In science, we go by evidence" Prasanna Mohanty Governance Now, January 18 2013
*On GM crops: a conversation with Pushpa M Bhargava, eminent biotechnologist, Padma Shree awardee and founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad
Dr Bhargava, what do you think of environmentalist Mark Lynas’ sudden change of heart – from being an anti-GM crusader to a pro-GM crusader?
I think it doesn’t change the situation one bit. We have no credentials of him and one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
In science, we go by evidence. Nothing has been added to the evidence that we have for or against the GM crop. Opinion is completely irrelevant in science if it is not based on evidence, existing or new. In science, if we ever change our opinion we always give reasons. Here, none is given.
To the community of scientists, he (Lynas) is a completely unknown entity and no different from somebody one might pick up on the street randomly.
How do we know that he is not purchased?
How do we know the person exists and not merely a story created by the multinational seed companies making GMOs? The very fact that this story has been released without scientific evidence makes the case against GM crops stronger.
What is your stand on promoting GM crops in India?
Firstly, we must make a socio-economic assessment whether there is a problem at all. We had a problem in case of cotton but not for brinjal at all.
Secondly, we must see if alternatives are available to the GM technology. In case of cotton, there was a problem but there were alternatives – integrated pest management, bio-pesticides and organic agriculture. So we didn’t need it.
Third, if it turns out that we need GM crops we must go through a very strict safety assessment. This has not been done for any GM crop (in India). Nearly 30 tests need to be conducted. Out of these, about six tests have been done and that, too, done badly. So for all practical purposes, no safety assessment has been done.
Therefore, a moratorium on GM crops is justified.

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