GMO Critic-Turned-Supporter To Speak In Boise Tuesday

May 19, 2015

During a talk he gave in Oxford, England in 2013, environmentalist and writer Mark Lynas apologized to the very audience he used to demonize: companies and scientists that work with genetically modified foods.

Potato crops are one of the most recent subjects in the GMO debate.
Credit Barry Crabtree / Flickr Creative Commons

"As an environmentalist and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a health and nutritious diet of their choosing," Lynas told the crowd, "I could not have chosen a more counterproductive path and I now regret it completely."

Lynas is from the U.K., and used to be a loud voice in the international fight against genetically modified foods. But he's become famous for switching sides on the issue, and is in agriculture rich Idaho to try and debunk what he says are myths about GMOs.

The Food Producers of Idaho is sponsoring Lynas' appearance. The group includes a number of agribusinesses in the state, including Monsanto and Simplot. Last fall, McDonald's made headlines for deciding against using Simplot's first strain of a genetically modified potato, which has been bred to have less sugar. Simplot has long been a supplier of the fast food giant's french fries.

Rick Waitley is the executive director of the Food Producers of Idaho. Waitley says members of the group have diverse opinions about GMOs, and many are still unsure about what to think.

"We've got dairymen who really don't want to feed GMO alfalfa," says Waitley. "But we've got alfalfa producers that are divided down the center, also. We've got alfalfa seed producers that are very GMO friendly. We've got producers that do not want to grow genetically modified crops."

Waitley says Food Producers of Idaho doesn't take a side on the GMO debate. But he hopes by bringing Lynas to the state, people can get answers from someone who has been on both sides of the issue.

"We've held so many meetings discussing GMOs because of the over 180 commodities that we raise in Idaho, there's been lots of debate about GMOs and exactly how that figures in to our overall industry," Waitley says.

In the fight for public perception, there's a long ways to go in getting people to trust GMO food. According to the Pew Research Center, 88 percent of scientists polled said GMO foods are safe to eat. But for the general public, that number was just 37 percent.

Mark Lynas is speaking Tuesday at the Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise at 7:00 p.m. The event is free.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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