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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/16/13

The Mark Lynas Mythology: The GMO "Conversion" NON-Story, By Zack Kaldveer

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All sides of the debate over the efficacy of genetically engineered foods (GMOs) have probably read or watched the curiously dramatic press coverage devoted to a "sudden" conversion of an alleged "leader" and "co-founder" of the anti-GMO movement into an impassioned GMO advocate.  

This widely covered (and suspiciously well-orchestrated) "conversion speech " given by environmental reporter Mark Lynas on January 3rd of this year at an Oxford, England farming conference was inexplicably bestowed an aura of significance by the corporate media.

But there's just one BIG problem with the accepted press narrative: nothing about it is remotely true. This "non-story" is built on a house of cards that collapse under the weight of documented, deceptive self-promotion by Mr. Lynas combined with a failure of the mainstream press to fact check his grossly exaggerated claims regarding the role he played in the anti-gmo movement.

The Lynas "Conversion" Speech: Anti-Science Masquerading as Science

Any and all press coverage afforded Lynas's scam, should have been immediately rendered obsolete after his stunningly misleading and patently deceptive apologia filled with one tired, debunked biotech industry talking point after another.

While the press failed to recognize or challenge the litany of inaccuracies in a speech that will live in anti-science infamy - detailed refutations that lay waste to each baseless assertion he made, include Jason Mark of the Earth Island Journal, one of the world's leading agro-ecologists Professor John Vandermeer, Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Dr. Brian John.

Lynas Lashes Out At Critics: Forced to Apologize and Retract Statements

Tellingly, these rebuttals were ignored by the same press that unquestioningly provided Mark Lynas a global microphone to spin his fictitious self-promotional tour de force. Similarly notable, was the way in which Lynas responded. His (and his defenders) attempted refutations failed to challenge the veracity of the critiques themselves, but instead personally attacked those that challenged him - calling Jonathan Mathews of GM Watch "an industry shill for Big Organic", and that Spin Watch, the site that published his article, was run by a red and 'a far-left academic' who oversaw 'an ongoing anti-capitalist propaganda war'.

These ad homonym attacks were proceeded by baseless smears against a GM watch donor and a respected environmental non- profit -- forcing a public apology from Lynas in one instance (Soil Association) and a retraction in another (Union of Concerned Scientists).

Mark Lynas and the Media Revise History

Central to the mythology that made Mark Lynas's January 3rd "conversion speech" newsworthy to so many was the "anti-GMO founder becomes GMO advocate" storyline. Incredibly, t his false narrative has now become accepted media lore.

When it wasn't Lynas himself promoting this myth --in his January speech and on following social media posts and in media interviews - the press appeared all too happy to do it for him.   The fictitious and fact free coverage of his fairy tale mea culpa was no less ethically dubious than his failure to correct reporters belligerent aggrandizement   of his almost non-role in the anti-gmo movement.

Jonathan Mathews of GM Watch noted some recent examples of this dual mythmaking effort, "In its news release about the talk - Co-founder of anti-GM movement Mark Lynas calls for evidence to replace instinct in GM debate - the JIC (John Innes Centre) explained that Lynas wasn't just a founding figure but had 'helped develop the anti-gm narrative still in use today.' Similarly after his Oxford talk, the Harvard academic Calestous Juma wrote of Lynas apologizing for 'masterminding the anti-biotechnology campaign', while a blogger for Slate magazine explained, 'If you fear genetically modified food, you may have Mark Lynas to thank.'

Press coverage of Lynas's public relations spectacle was nearly uniform in its blind acceptance of the desired false narrative the announcement was intended to convey, and there's no   shortage of reputable media outlets to choose from that fell prey to it, including stories in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, and The New Yorker.

Article after article contain comically overwrought descriptions of Lynas as one of the movements "co-founders", "apostles", " Godfathers,' "philosopher and spokesman", and "leading voices".

A Peripheral, Non-Player In Anti-GMO Movement

In light of such journalistic fawning over the Lynas "conversion myth", let's begin by debunking his claim that he "helped start the movement" in 1995.

Lynas's recent high profile portrayal of his instrumental role in the movement didn't escape the notice of actual - not pretend - movement leaders.   As Mathews explains, "Dr. Sue Mayer, the science director at Greenpeace UK, who began work in 1990 on GM and related issues around the patenting of genes and living organisms, often in coordination with other European campaigners"After hearing how Lynas was portraying himself, Sue Mayer contacted him to say, '"I think this is a very misleading claim and you should feel ashamed of yourself"I am concerned that you are letting this be used to promote yourself and the biotech industry.'

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Zack Kaldveer is the Assistant Media Director for the Organic Consumers Association. Zack served as the Assistant Media Director for California's Prop 37 campaign (labeling of genetically modified foods) and was the former Communications Director (more...)
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