Mark Lynas is a former journalist turned promotional advocate for genetically engineered foods and pesticides who makes inaccurate claims about those products from his perch at the Cornell Alliance for Science and in his new book, “Seeds of Science.” Lynas is closely tied in with other key players in the agrichemical industry’s PR and lobbying efforts.
Scientists and food experts say Lynas is wrong on science
Scientists and food policy experts have sharply criticized Lynas for his inaccurate and unscientific promotional efforts for GMOs and pesticides. See articles by (emphases ours):
David Schubert, PhD, Head, Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory & Professor at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies (San Diego Union Tribune letter):
“Unlike Mark Lynas, who is not a scientist and whose words (Michael) Gerson is parroting (in his review of “Seeds of Science”), I can unequivocally state that there is no scientific consensus about GMO safety and that most of his statements are false. The statement that GMO foods are safe to eat because there is no evidence for harm is not valid because there are no studies on human safety.”
“In contrast, there is evidence for the toxicity of both GMO plants and the chemicals required for their production in animals.”
“GMO crops have produced no benefits for society as a whole, but have resulted in an enormous increase in human exposure to agricultural chemicals.”
Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, former senior scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists:
“Here are some of the incorrect or misleading points that Lynas makes about the science or development of GE.” … “Instead of debating or discussing the actual science, Lynas casts aspersions and resorts to relying on authority rather than data or research.”
Lynas’ claim about the certainty of GMO safety is “unscientific, illogical and absurd.”
Eric Holt-Giménez, PhD, Director Food First/Institute of Food Policy and Development (Huffington Post):
John Vandermeer, PhD, Professor, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan (Food First):
Mark Lynas “has discovered high school biology. Now it’s time to go to college. The things he might discover are, for example, the endocrine system.”
Timothy A. Wise, Director of the Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University (Food Tank):
Mark Lynas has “made a career out of … demonization“
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, 35 member groups active in 50 African countries (2018 statement):
“Lynas claims that African anti-GMO campaigners are well funded ‘driving posh cars’ whereas they are clearly massively outgunned in a David vs Goliath battle by biotech corporations with stock market values bigger than the GDPs of their target African countries. The fly-in pundit’s contempt for African people, custom and tradition is unmistakeable.”
Pesticide messaging based on industry talking points, not science
An example of how Mark Lynas promotes agrichemical industry talking points – rather than honest science reporting – is his article attacking the scientists of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for classifying glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
A Monsanto public relations document reveals the corporation’s plan to discredit the IARC cancer scientists by engaging “industry partners” (including Sense About Science, where Lynas served on the advisory board) to orchestrate “outcry” and “outrage” against the “politically charged” cancer report.
Lynas’ messaging follows right along. He declared glyphosate to be the “most benign chemical in world farming” and described the expert panel’s cancer report as a “witch hunt” orchestrated by people overcome with “hysteria and emotion” who went out and got a “flaky offshoot of the World Health Organization” to declare glyphosate carcinogenic.
In reality, IARC panels are comprised of leading experts from multiple fields in cancer research who conduct comprehensive science reviews to identify cancer hazards to inform global policies to prevent cancer – a role that has made IARC a target of food and chemical industry propaganda campaigns.
In pushing his case that “activist groups abused science and sidelined evidence-based policy in the glyphosate saga,” Lynas ignored substantial evidence, widely reported throughout the world, that Monsanto manipulated the science and regulatory reviews on glyphosate for decades using covert tactics including ghostwriting studies and articles, killing studies, pushing dubious science, attacking scientists and strong-arming regulatory agencies.
Lynas sidestepped all that hard evidence and focused instead (as Monsanto’s partner spin groups did) on promoting the misleading reporting of Kate Kelland, a Reuters reporter with close ties to the corporate-funded Science Media Centre, the sister organization of Sense About Science, as a central source.
In a recent ABC interview, Lynas admitted, “I wasn’t interested in the science. I didn’t read a single scientific paper when I was an activist.” Despite his current platform at Cornell Alliance for Science, Lynas’ work continues to display little interest or scholarship in science. His communications for Cornell – such as his most recent argument that “the environmental movement is causing hunger and poverty”– follow the same pattern as his glyphosate defense post: misleading narratives that ignore data to push the talking points and commercial interests of the agrichemical industry.
Promoted by, tied to pesticide industry propaganda network
Agrichemical companies and their public relations operatives frequently promote Mark Lynas and his work. See for example Monsanto’s website, many promotional tweets by pesticide industry trade groups, lobby groups, pro-industry academics and writers, and various Monsanto employees, and the dozens of Lynas’ articles promoted by Genetic Literacy Project, a propaganda group that partners with Monsanto.
Lynas and Cornell Alliance for Science also collaborate with other key players in the agrichemical industry’s lobbying and propaganda network.
Partnered with Monsanto “partner” groups
A confidential Monsanto PR plan dated February 2015 named four tiers of “industry partners” company executives planned to engage in their efforts to discredit the world’s leading cancer research agency in order to protect the reputation of Roundup weed killer. Two of the groups named in the Monsanto PR plan – Sense About Science and Biofortified – have partnered with the Cornell Alliance for Science.
Sense About Science – Lynas has served for several years on their advisory council – is listed in the Monsanto Plan as a “Tier 2″ “industry partner,” and as a possibility to “lead industry response” in the media to “orchestrate outcry” about the cancer hazard report. The co-founder (and current “patron”) of Sense About Science is Lord Dick Taverne, an English politician who learned about science communication in part from his work promoting and defending the tobacco industry in the 1990s, according to The Intercept and documents from the UCSF Tobacco Industry Archive.
Sense About Science USA partners with the Cornell Alliance for Science to offer “statistical consultation for journalists” via the group’s director Trevor Butterworth, who built his career defending toxic products for the chemical, soda and drug industries.
Another group listed as a “partner” in the Monsanto PR plan, Biofortified, partnered with Cornell Alliance for Science on a petition to oppose the use of the Freedom of Information Act to investigate the links between publicly funded academics and the agrichemical industry. Fellows trained by Cornell Alliance for Science worked with Biofortified/MAMyths to protest Indian environmentalist and author Vandana Shiva.
Aligned with climate science skeptic to launch pro-fracking, pro-nuke, GMO “movement”
Lynas calls himself a co-founder of the “movement” of “ecomodernism,” a corporate-aligned strain of “environmentalism” that writer George Monbiot describes as “take no political action to protect the natural world.” The group promotes fracking, nuclear power, and agrichemical products as ecological solutions. According to its leaders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, energy technologies favored by the oil billionaire Koch brothers “are doing far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the ones favored by the climate-apocalyptic Left.” Nordhaus is also a board member (along with Jon Entine and Drew Kershen) of the Science Literacy Project, the parent organization of Genetic Literacy Project, a propaganda group that partners with Monsanto.
At a failed launch event for ecomodernism in September 2015, Lynas aligned himself with Owen Paterson, a prominent climate science denialist who slashed funding for efforts to prepare the UK for global warming during his stint as environment secretary there.
That same month, Paterson spoke at Cornell Alliance for Science, where he promoted GMOs in a hyperbolic speech filled with unsupportable claims, and accused environmentalists of allowing children to die in Africa. Paterson’s speech at Cornell won praise from the industry-funded front group American Council on Science and Health in a blog titled “Billion dollar green campaigns kill poor children,” written by ACSH’s former acting director Gil Ross, a physician who went to jail for Medicaid fraud.
Mark Lynas background
Lynas authored several books on climate change (one of which was recognized by the Royal Society) before he attracted worldwide attention with his “conversion” from an anti-GMO activist to a promoter of the technology with a widely-promoted 2013 speech at Oxford that critics have called misleading.
Several months later Lynas became a fellow at Cornell University Office of International Programs at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and began working for the Cornell Alliance for Science, a communications campaign developed in 2014 to promote GMOs with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Lynas identified himself as the “political director” for Cornell Alliance for Science in a 2015 New York Times op-ed. The Cornell Alliance for Science does not explain what its political agenda is, but the group’s messaging and goals closely track the agrichemical industry’s commercial agenda: to increase acceptance of genetically engineered crops and pesticides around the world, particularly in Africa.
Mysterious Lynas PR push, and leaked EuropaBio memo
The massive media coverage of Lynas’ pro-GMO conversion in 2013 raised suspicions that an industry PR campaign was helping to elevate him behind the scenes. A leaked 2011 memo from an industry PR firm — describing plans to recruit high profile “ambassadors” to lobby for GMO acceptance – heightened suspicions of industry backing because the document specifically named Lynas. Lynas has said the industry group never approached him.
According to a Guardian report, EuropaBio, a trade group whose members include Monsanto and Bayer, planned to recruit PR ambassadors to help decision makers “rethink Europe’s position on GM crops.” The ambassadors would not be paid directly but would receive travel expenses and “dedicated communications support” from industry funding. The PR firm’s operative rep claimed to “have interest from” Lynas, among others, in the ambassador role. Lynas denied having any contact with them. “I have not been asked to be an ambassador, nor would I accept such a request if asked,” he told the Guardian.
Gates Foundation, GMOs & Monsanto
The Gates Foundation – the principal funder for the Cornell Alliance for Science — has been sharply criticized for its agricultural development funding strategies, specifically for spending most of its funds “to feed the poor in Africa” on scientists in wealthy nations (see 2014 GRAIN analysis), and for colonialist strategies that are “exacerbating global inequality and entrenching corporate power globally” (see 2016 report by Global Justice Now).
The Gates Foundation massively expanded its funding for agricultural projects about a decade ago, after Monsanto’s former head of international development, Rob Horsch, joined the foundation’s agricultural development leadership team.
Lynas’ new book “Seeds of Science” spends a chapter (“The True History of Monsanto”) trying to explain some of the corporation’s past sins and lauding Rob Horsch at length. It spends another chapter (“Africa: Let Them Eat Organic Baby Corn”) arguing that Africans need agrichemical industry products to feed themselves.
Criticisms of the Gates Foundation’s colonialist approach to Africa
Seeds of Neo-Colonialism: Why the GMO Promoters Get it So Wrong About Africa, statement by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, 5/7/2018
Are Gates and Rockefeller using their influence to set agenda in poor states? “Study identifies Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations among rich donors that are close to government and may be skewing priorities,” by John Vidal, The Guardian, 1/15/2016
Philanthropic Power and Development. Who shapes the agenda? by Jens Martens and Karolin Seitz, 2015 report (page 48).
Philanthrocapitalism: The Gates Foundation’s African programmes are not charity, by Philip L Bereano, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, Third World Resurgence, 2017
How Bill Gates is Helping KFC Take Over Africa, by Alex Park, Mother Jones, 1/10/2014
Gates Foundation’s Seed Agenda in Africa ‘Another Form of Colonialism,’ Warns Protesters, by Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams, 3/23/2015
Gates Foundation is spearheading neoliberal plunder of African agriculture, by Colin Todhunter, The Ecologist, 1/21/2016
How does the Gates Foundation spend its money to feed the world? GRAIN report, 2014
Bill Gates is on a mission to sell GMOs to Africa, but he’s not telling the whole truth, by Stacy Malkan, Alternet, 3/24/2016