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, a public relations campaign housed at Cornell University. The Cornell Alliance for Science launched in 2014 with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote acceptance of GMOs. Lynas, who identified himself as the “political director” of Cornell Alliance for Science in a 2015 op-ed in the New York Times, has been called out repeatedly by scientists, farmers and food experts for making false claims and inaccurate statements in his efforts to promote agricultural biotech.
Scientists, 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): “I can unequivocally state that there is no scientific consensus about GMO safety and that most of his statements are false.”
- 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.”
- Belinda Martineau, PhD, genetic engineer who helped develop the first GMO food (NYT letter and Biotech Salon): Lynas’ claim about the certainty of GMO safety is “unscientific, illogical and absurd.”
- Glenn Davis Stone, Professor of Anthropologist and Environmental Studies at Washington University, review of Lynas book Seeds of Science: “amateurish rehash of common industry talking points”
- Eric Holt-Giménez, PhD, Director Food First/Inst. of Food Policy and Development (Huffington Post): “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.”
- 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 (2018 statement): “The fly-in pundit’s contempt for African people, custom and tradition is unmistakeable.”
- African Centre for Biodiversity (2018 press release): “Lynas’ narrative is demonstrably false.”
- Pete Myers, PhD, founder and chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, publisher of EHN.org (on Twitter): “The peer reviewed scientific literature is replete with documentation that glyphosate does more than affect plants. Mark Lynas’ claims display deep scientific ignorance, or an active effort to manufacture doubt. You should ignore him.”
‘Manipulative, misleading and unethical’ tactics
According to a December 2018 report posted by the African Center for Biodiversity, Lynas and the Cornell Alliance for Science used the images of African farmers without their knowledge and consent to promote a political agenda in Tanzania. The report accused Lynas of “exploiting African farmers’ images to promote GMOs,” and said he used unethical tactics. “Mr Lynas’ manipulative communication tactics and attempts to discredit anybody who holds different views than his on GMOs and hybrid seeds have crossed an ethical red line and must cease,” the report said.
The seed-sovereignty and biosafety advocacy group said in its press release that Lynas has a “history of mischief-making in Tanzania” for the agricultural biotech industry lobby. They wrote, “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.”
Pesticide messaging based on industry talking points, not science
An example of inaccurate reporting by Mark Lynas is his 2017 article for the Cornell Alliance for Science that attempted to discredit the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency for its report that 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.”
A fact check by U.S. Right to Know found several inaccuracies in Lynas’ article. It also found that Lynas made the same arguments and relied on the same two flawed sources as a blog posted a month earlier by the American Council on Science and Health, a group Monsanto was paying to help defend glyphosate and other agrichemical products. See documentation: Glyphosate Spin Check: Tracking claims about the world’s most widely used herbicide.
In pushing his case that “activist groups abused science and sidelined evidence-based policy in the glyphosate saga,” Lynas not only relied on industry arguments and sources, but also ignored substantial evidence, widely reported in the media, 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 in order to protect its profits from glyphosate-based products.
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.
Advises Monsanto partner group Sense About Science
A confidential Monsanto PR plan dated February 2015 suggested Sense About Science as a group that could help lead the industry’s response in the media to discredit the WHO cancer report about glyphosate. Lynas serves on the advisory council of Sense About Science. The group’s co-founder (and current “patron”) is Lord Dick Taverne, an English politician whose PR firm promoted and defended the tobacco industry in the 1990s, according to The Intercept and documents from theUCSF Tobacco Industry Archive.
Sense About Science also 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.
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 the British writer George Monbiot describes as “take no political action to protect the natural world.” The eco-modernists promote fracking, nuclear power and agrichemical products as ecological solutions. According to eco-modernist 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.”
At a failed launch event for ecomodernism in September 2015, Lynas aligned himself with Owen Paterson, a prominent climate science denialist in the UK who slashed funding for efforts to prepare the country for global warming when he was the environment secretary. The 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.
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 described as misleading. 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 Cornell Alliance for Science, a communications campaign developed in 2014 to promote GMOs with funding from the 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. He has said the 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 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the principal funder for the Cornell Alliance for Science with $12 million in grants, has been criticized for its agricultural development funding strategies that favor corporate agribusiness agendas. A 2014 analysis from the research group GRAIN found that the Gates Foundation spent most of its agricultural development funds “to feed the poor in Africa” — nearly $3 billion spent over a decade — to fund scientists and researchers in wealthy nations. The money also helps buy political influence across Africa, GRAIN reported. A 2016 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 about a decade ago when Rob Horsch, Monsanto’s former head of international development 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