Mark Lynas is a former journalist turned public relations advocate for genetically engineered foods and pesticides who makes inaccurate claims about those products from his perch at the Gates Foundation-funded Cornell Alliance for Science (which recently dropped “Cornell” from its name). The PR campaign based at Cornell University trains spokespeople and creates networks of influence, particularly in African countries, to persuade the public and policymakers to accept GMOs and pesticides.
The 50-member African Food Sovereignty Alliance said in a 2018 statement that Lynas promotes “false promises, misrepresentation, and alternative facts” in his GMO promotions. African groups have also documented how Lynas used false and misleading images of African farmers in his PR work.
Scientists, food experts say Lynas is wrong on science
Scientists and food policy experts have criticized Lynas repeatedly for making inaccurate and unscientific statements in his efforts to promote agribusiness interests. For example, an article he wrote attacking agroecology was widely panned by experts in the field who described it as “an embarrassment” for someone who claims to be scientific, a “demagogic and non-scientific interpretation of a scientific paper” and a “flawed analysis” that offers “sweeping generalizations” and “wild conclusions.”
Many other experts have described Lynas’ inaccurate statements and misleading tactics:
- “I can unequivocally state that … most of (Lynas’) statements are false,” wrote David Schubert, PhD, Head, Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, The Salk Institute
- “Instead of debating or discussing the actual science, Lynas casts aspersions and resorts to relying on authority rather than data or research,” wrote Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, former senior scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists.
- Lynas’s clams about GMOs are “unscientific, illogical and absurd,” wrote Belinda Martineau, PhD, a genetic engineer who helped develop the first GMO food (see also NYT letter).
- Lynas “issued this very dramatic, but essentially, fabricated reinvention of his own biography to springboard into a new phase of his career,” said James Wildson, professor of science policy at the University of Sheffield.
- Lynas’ book Seeds of Science is an “amateurish rehash of common industry talking points,” wrote Glenn Davis Stone, an environmental anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis.
- “The laundry list of what Mark Lynas got wrong about both GMOs and science is extensive, and has been refuted point by point by some of the world’s leading agroecologists and biologists,” wrote Eric Holt-Giménez, PhD, former director of Food First.
- Mark Lynas has “made a career out of … demonization, ” wrote Timothy A. Wise, former director of research, Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University.
- “Mark Lynas’ claims display deep scientific ignorance, or an active effort to manufacture doubt. You should ignore him,” tweeted Pete Myers, PhD, chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences.
‘Manipulative, misleading and unethical’ tactics
Africa-based groups say Lynas has repeatedly misrepresented facts to promote a political agenda. According to a December 2018 report by the African Center for Biodiversity, Lynas and the Cornell Alliance for Science used the images of African farmers without their knowledge and consent, exploiting the images in misleading ways to claim farmers need GMOs.
As one example, Lynas posted the above image of a Tanzanian farmer, Mrs. R, without permission and out of context, suggesting she is a victim of “global injustice.” Mrs. R is in fact a successful farmer who champions agroecological practices and makes a good living, according to the ACBio report. She asked Lynas to remove her image, but it remains on his Twitter feed. ACBio said in its report that Lynas’ tactics “crossed an ethical red line and must cease.”
The food sovereignty group also said in a press release that Lynas has a “history of mischief-making in Tanzania” for the agricultural biotech industry lobby. “His visits to the country are well organized by the lobby, using platforms such as the regular meetings of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), where the media are in attendance to report on his talks. His attacks have principally been directed at the country’s biosafety regulations, particularly its precautionary approach and strict liability provisions.”
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty has described Lynas as a “fly-in pundit” who displays “contempt for African people, custom and tradition.”
Pesticide industry talking points, not science
Another example of inaccurate reporting by Lynas is his 2017 articlefor the Cornell Alliance for Science attacking the World Health Organization’s cancer agency for reporting glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Lynas claimed the expert panel report was a “witch hunt” and an “obvious perversion of both science and natural justice,” orchestrated by people overcome with “hysteria and emotion.” He claimed glyphosate is the “most benign chemical in world farming.”
Afact check by U.S. Right to Know found that Lynas made misleading and erroneous arguments and relied on two flawed sources. The same two sources were used in a blog by theAmerican Council on Science and Health, a group Monsanto was paying to help defend glyphosate and GMOs.
Lynas also failed to report on the substantial documentary evidence, widely reported in the media, that Monsanto manipulated the science and regulatory reviews on glyphosate for decades using covert tactics includingghostwriting studies andarticles, trying to stop independent research, pushing dubious science, attacking scientists andstrong-arming regulatory agencies in order to protect its profits.
Promoted by, tied to pesticide industry PR network
Pesticide 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, industry-paid academics and writers, and various Monsanto employees. Dozens of Lynas’ articles are promoted by Genetic Literacy Project, a propaganda group that has received funds from Bayer.
Advises Monsanto partner group Sense About Science
A confidential Monsanto PR plan dated February 2015 identified Sense About Science as a group that could help lead the industry’s media response to discredit the WHO cancer report about glyphosate. Lynas serves on the advisory council of Sense About Science. The group “does not always disclose when its sources on controversial matters are scientists with ties to the industries under examination” and “is known to take positions that buck scientific consensus or dismiss emerging evidence of harm,” according to reporting in The Intercept. Sense About Science also partnered with the Cornell Alliance for Science to offer “statistical consultation for journalists” via the group’s director Trevor Butterworth, whom journalists have described as a “chemical industry public relations writer.”
Launched pro-fracking, pro-nuke, pro-GMO “ecomodernism movement”
Lynas calls himself a co-founder of the “movement” of “ecomodernism,” a corporate-aligned strain of “environmentalism” that the British journalist George Monbiot has described as “take no political action to protect the natural world.” The eco-modernists promote fracking, nuclear power, GMOs, and ultra-processed foods as ecological solutions. According to eco-modernist leaders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger who founded 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.”
At a failed launch event for ecomodernism in September 2015, Lynas aligned himself with Owen Paterson, a prominent climate science denialist who slashed funding in the UK for global warming when he was the environment secretary there. That month Paterson also 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. “Billion dollar green campaigns kill poor children,” touted a headline promoting Paterson’s speech from the American Council on Science and Health, a front group Monsanto was paying to defend its products.
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 an avid promoter of the technology, with a widely-promoted 2013 speech at Oxford that experts said contained many falsehoods. Later that year Lynas became a fellow at Cornell University Office of International Programs at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and began working for the Gates Foundation-funded Cornell Alliance for Science, a communications campaign developed in 2014 to promote GMOs.
See: Why is Cornell University hosting a GMO propaganda campaign?
Lynas identified himself as the “political director” for Cornell Alliance for Science in a 2015 New York Times op-ed. The (since renamed) 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 that specifically named Lynas – and described plans to recruit high profile “ambassadors” to lobby for GMOs – heightened suspicions of industry backing. Lynas has said the group never approached him.
According to aGuardian 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, mong 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 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the principal funder for the Cornell Alliance for Science, has been widely criticized for agricultural development funding strategies that favor corporate agribusiness agendas. A2014 analysis and a 2021 follow-up report from the research group GRAIN documents that the Gates Foundation spends most of its agricultural development funds ostensibly devoted “to feed the poor in Africa” tofund scientists and researchers in wealthy Northern nations. The money also helps buy political influence across Africa, GRAIN reported. A2016 report by the advocacy group Global Justice Now concluded that the Gates Foundation’s agricultural development strategies are “exacerbating global inequality and entrenching corporate power globally.”
The Gates Foundation massively expanded its funding for agricultural projects in 2006 when Rob Horsch, Monsanto’s former head of international development joined the Gates Foundation’s agricultural developmentleadership team. Lynas’ book “Seeds of Science” includes a chapter titled, “The True History of Monsanto,” in which he defends Monsanto and lauds Horsch. In a chapter titled, “Africa: Let Them Eat Organic Baby Corn,” Lynas argues that Africans need pesticide industry products to feed themselves.
Critiques of the Gates Foundation agricultural development work
- 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
- Read more of our reporting about Bill Gates and his food and agricultural agenda.