Apologies have become passé. Apologizing takes humility and respect, two traits severely lacking in today’s society. That’s what makes an apology from a genuinely contrite individual all the more appreciated. It is hard to admit you are wrong.
This comes to mind with a recent development in the scientific community. A British man named Mark Lynas stunned an audience at the Oxford University Farming Conference earlier this month by reversing his long-held opposition to genetically modified (GM) technology. It seems this scientist, en-vironmentalist and author finally did some serious studying and found that GM biotech does in fact benefit the planet and safely increase the food supply. His remarks were the exact opposite of the mantra he had been espousing for years. He apologized for his past actions.
This is significant because Lynas was one of the leading organizers of the anti-GM movement that in the mid-1990s so alarmed the public. After more than a decade of attacking GM science, Lynas actually read what science was saying. As he delved into academic papers and research, he discovered that one by one, his cherished beliefs about genetic modification were little more than green urban myths. His unveiled his turn-around at his Oxford lecture.
“As an environmentalist and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path,” he said. “I now regret it completely.”
Genetically modified organ-isms (GMOs) are those that have gone through a scientific bio-engineering process that isolates certain genes in a plant to allow the trait of that gene to be inserted into a different plant to create change. GMOs are known to improve drought tolerance, disease resistance, cold toler-ance, and increased nutrition.
Lynas admits having many assumptions, including that GM technology was an “unnatural manipulation of nature” that was destructive and unethical. Although the British Royal Academy and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences drew conclusions in opposition to his, Lynas spent years ripping genetically modified crops out of the ground and accusing those involved with the technology of horrific environmental negli-gence. Now he is apologizing for “demonizing an important technological option which can and should be used to benefit the environment.”
“The GM debate is over,” Lynas said. “We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe. Over a decade and a half, with 3 trillion GM meals eaten, there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time some element of agriculture has gotten a bad rap because of speculation or the blatant misrepresentation of facts. In the last few years the corn industry has had to counter claims that high fructose corn syrup is the cause of obesity in this country. It isn’t. Also, the cattle industry was blindsided by the “lean finely textured beef” debacle. Trying to get the truth out after the public has been put into an uproar, however, is like trying to call to friends across the football stadium after a Wildcat touchdown. They just can’t hear it.
Maybe Mark Lynas’s con-version is exactly what the genetic modification community needed to get the truth out there. An apology from a man who once did everything in his power to crucify their technological advancement demands atten-tion.
Converts can be powerful messengers. For me the name “Saul” comes to mind….
Mary Mertz is married to a fourth-generation Kansas farmer and is a family member of River Creek Farms east of Manhattan.