At this year’s Iowa Farm Bur­eau Federation (IFBF) annual meeting, members will have an opportunity to hear a strong defense of biotech crops from someone who was once a leading opponent of the technology.

Mark Lynas, an environmental writer from England, spent years speaking out loudly against genetically modified crops and even destroyed test plots to delay research into genetically modified organisms or GMOs. But after realizing that biotech crops are a key to protecting the environment and feeding the world’s growing population, Lynas became a strong supporter of biotech crops and publicly apologized for his earlier actions to discredit them.

"We really believe that Mark Lynas is someone who can help our members understand the im­­portance of supporting biotech crops for farmers, the environment and the world," said Barb Lykins, IFBF director of community resources, who chaired the annual meeting program committee. "Mark is very well connected with decision makers around the world; he sees the debate over GMOS from a global perspective and has a thorough understanding of biotech opponents and their tactics. That’s why we are very excited to have him speak to our members at the annual meeting."

Meeting set for Dec. 2-3

This year’s IFBF annual meeting, set for Dec. 2 and 3 in downtown Des Moines, will celebrate farmers’ commitment to agriculture and look at how agriculture is growing.

The IFBF annual meeting will once again be held at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center, formerly known as Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium.

Lynas, who will be one of the keynote speakers on the second day of the 2014 annual meeting, has said he switched his position on biotech crops after seeing first-hand in Africa how valuable they can be to small-scale farmers.

For example, Lynas said, farmers in Tanzania are hopeful that biotechnology can help them battle diseases that threaten cassava, a local staple. However, because the Tanzanian government prohibits farmers from raising biotech crops, there are few weapons to fight the disease, he said.

Lynas is also a strong believer in the science that overwhelmingly proves that biotech crops are safe for humans, animals and the environment. In a 2013 speech at the World Food Prize conference, Lynas said opponents of biotech crops push for "prohibition based on superstition."

At his World Food Prize talk, Lynas also noted that farmers are the greatest advocates for the need for biotech crops because they have a first-hand understanding of the need for improved technology to increase yields and reduce losses from disease and pests, said IFBF’s Lykins.

"I think he will also help members develop talking points and strategies for supporting biotech crops in their own communities and to a broader audience," she said.

View the entire annual meeting agenda and register.