Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lynas Spanks One Out for Genetic Engineering, Again

It's good to read a simple article by a Kenyan in a Kenyan newspaper about staple crops rather than cash crops for export being the key to tackling poverty. Many people probably suspect that it is true, but we are constantly blasted with articles about luxury fruits and vegetables for the European market and cash crops that make Kenyan farmers very little money but sell well in the West.

The article refers to a study brief by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) called Strategies and Priorities for African Agriculture. The study concludes that "producing more staple crops such as maize, pulses, and roots and more livestock products tends to reduce poverty further than producing more export crops such as coffee or cut flowers". IFPRI is connected with some of the big bullies among the multinationals and some heavy handed Western governments, but they can still produce sensible research, it seems.

Unfortunately, all the mainstream media are taking an interest in Mark Lynas' supposed conversion from environmentalist to promoter of genetic engineering (GE). Lynas spanked one out in public for GE over 18 months ago. Perhaps the press weren't quite ready then for such a shocking conversion, or they had other things on their mind. But back in July 2011 Lynas claimed that Africa must embrace GM technology to abolish hunger and malnutrition.

Lynas would be well aware that his claims are utter rubbish, so one can only conclude that he is making them for reasons that don't relate to science or anything too academic. All the more surprising that he considers opposition to GE to be 'anti-scientific'. Even his own arguments are not primarily about the science of GE, but the economics; and his arguments are based on falsehoods.

Back then, Lynas said "One of the most pervasive myths about biotech crops is that they are part of a nefarious plot by multinational seed companies such as Monsanto to dominate the world food chain." But that's pretty much how Monsanto and other GE multinationals would describe themselves, albeit using a slightly different rhetoric. Any science involved is of little relevance, which means that even someone with as little grasp of science as Lynas has can still take part in the debate, as long as they come to realize what exactly the terms of the debate are.

The most astonishing thing about GE crops is that they are so unneeded. Conventional crops have developed at a pace that GE can not keep up with; costs are also far lower; the claimed advantages of GE crops, where they didn't turn out to be exaggerations and lies, turned out to be short lived. Lynas and the GE industry are well aware of this, hence the need to keep pumping out the party line. Conventionally bred staple crops are what poor people depend on for survival, not expensive high technologies that don't perform well, despite all the hype.


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