Why Bill Nye Changed His Mind on GMOs

Why Bill Nye Changed His Mind on GMOs
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For over a decade, Bill Nye expressed strong concerns about genetically-modified crops. He was particularly vexed by the potential downstream effects of GMOs on the environment.

"We've been farming for 15,000 years, carefully breeding species at the pace of the seasons. But now it's possible to introduce a new species into the Earth's ecosystem... practically overnight. What's the hurry? It's not a race... So let's farm responsibly, let's require labels on our foods, and let's carefully test these foods case-by-case," he said in his 2005 show The Eyes of Nye.

But early last year, in a very public about-face, Bill Nye changed his mind on GMOs.

"I went to Monsanto and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there and I have revised my outlook and I'm very excited about telling the world," he said backstage on Real Time with Bill Maher.

GMO opponents were quick to denounce him.

"Sadly, it appears that Bill Nye has gone to the dark side,"

But it wasn't brainwashing that made Bill Nye change his mind. As he explained in his 2015 book Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World, it was a healthy dose of evidence, coupled with an abrupt awakening to the unscientific nature of the anti-GMO movement.

"Recently, I mingled in the crowd at a political rally in New York City. The theme was anti-GMO," he wrote. "I can tell you that it's not the big corporations that scare me. It's these people at the rally."

By and large, the protesters adopted a conspiratorial mindset, he noticed. The ever enthusiastic Science Guy was unnerved. "I'm all for raising legitimate questions, but these people seemed to be woefully uninformed and obsessed with finding a scapegoat for what they perceive as society's ills," he wrote.

He contrasted his experience at the rally with his visits to Monsanto Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University. At both locations, he met scientists who, like him, aim to use science to change the world for the better.

"What these large agricultural companies are actually doing is seeking ways to do more with less, on every farm in the world," he wrote. "Modern novel crop varieties could offer a faster way to make drought-resistant or salt-tolerant plants, to get to bigger and more efficient yields; to have a whole portfolio of new varieties ready to go as the climate changes in large agricultural production areas."

"Researchers are working to breed or transgenically modify plants so that they are resistant to disease, armored against pest insects, tolerant of low rainfall conditions, can be raised without harrowing and tilling soil, can grow in the presence of herbicides, and can, in some cases, grow in water so salty that few other plants can grow there at all..."

Thinking back to the anti-GMO rally he attended, Nye believes that the myriad benefits of GMOs would surprise and impress the many protesters he spoke with, if only they knew about them. Now firmly in favor of GMOs, the Science Guy intends to tell as many people as possible.

Primary Source: Bill Nye. Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World. St. Martin's Press (November 10, 2015)

(Image: James Durbin/Midland Reporter-Telegram via AP)

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