As environment minister, Jairam put the release of Bt Brinjal in deep freeze three years ago, and the debate on GM crops in India has been stuck at that point ever since.
Lynas, who began his anti-GM activism when the crops were introduced in European markets, confessed the change of heart at an Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month.
In an e-mail interview to The Sunday Express, Lynas said he was “truly sorry” for having been part of the campaign, as part of which he coordinated with Indian NGOs, in the process taking the fear of GM crops to India.
“Indian anti-GM activism is based on widely believed myths and popular misconceptions and conspiracy theories, promoted by political activists like Vandana Shiva, who find anti-GM a convenient banner to organise their reactionary campaigns against modern technology and capitalism in general,” Lynas said.
He also criticised Ramesh for resorting to public hearings to take a call on Bt brinjal. “Ramesh’s approach was a cop out, because it allowed those who shouted loudest — always the self-interested NGOs — to drown out the voices of everyone else. I have great respect for his skills as a politician, but on GM unfortunately he has let science down by not defending the need for evidence in policy. When it comes to a battle between mythology and scientific truth, minister Ramesh has declined to take sides,” he added.
The two got acquainted at the 2009 annual global climate conference held at Copenhagen where India was represented by Ramesh as negotiator while Lynas attended as climate advisor to the Maldives president.
Ramesh and Shiva dismissed Lynas’s criticism saying he cannot be taken seriously, with Shiva even alleging that corporate interests had dictated his change of heart.
“I did not take him (Lynas) seriously even as an anti-GM activist. There is no reason why I should take him seriously when he has become pro-GM. I am neither pro-GM nor anti-GM. Whatever I had to say was said in my executive order on Bt Brinjal. It has been three years since the moratorium was imposed. If I was so wrong, it could have been overturned. After all, it was an executive decision,” Ramesh told The Sunday Express.
“This fellow does not even know science,” an angry Shiva shot back. “I am a PhD in quantum theory. All that he is saying now is like being another spokesperson of corporates like Monsanto. The United Nations would not have created a UN protocol on biosafety if there were no issues related to GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He cannot accuse the UN of working on myths.”
Mincing no words, Shiva added: “I, in fact, have got recognition for drafting related frameworks at the global level. He, it seems, has the recognition of corporations that are paying him.”
Dismissing accusations of being bought over by multinational companies promoting GM seeds, Lynas said his endorsement of GM crops was based on his own conscience. “Lots of people insist that I must have been paid to say what I did at Oxford, but the truth is that I was forced to make that speech by my conscience, knowing that I have helped spread untruths about GM in the past and that this has harmed the world’s prospects for sustainability and food security. I am truly sorry for that,” he said.
Lynas, who has written several books on environment, rejected activists’ concerns about dominance of MNCs as well as fears of loss of biodiversity, asserting that GM crops should be allowed without waiting for popular consensus because “anti-GM activists will never allow a public consensus to develop on GM safety, because their ideological passion is basically religious and cannot be changed by evidence”.
On the other hand, Lynas points out, “Science (on GM crops) has a consensus already which dates back 10 years or more. If we are to listen to scientific consensus on climate change, then we must also accept the collective voice of experts on GM... GM crops have been exhaustively tested now for two decades, and there has not been a single substantiated case of harm to any human or animal during that time from crops which are now in the market. That is why I say the debate is over.”