BOISE — Mark Lynas, an environmental activist who helped start the anti-GMO movement in the 1990s but recently became a supporter of genetically engineered crops, will speak about his conversion in Boise.

Lynas, who lives in England, will speak from 7 to 8 p.m. May 19 at the 700-seat Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise during a free presentation that is open to the public.

During the Oxford Farming Conference in January 2013, Lynas apologized for his role in helping start the anti-GMO movement in the mid-1990s.

“I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops ... and that I hereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment,” he stated.

Lynas told the Oxford crowd that the anti-GMO movement was “also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.”

Concluding his presentation, Lynas told the anti-GMO lobby “to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.”

Lynas, who has published books on GMO technology, climate change and nuclear energy and is a frequent speaker on those subjects, is visiting Idaho to look at some of J.R. Simplot Co.’s third-generation potato traits to see if they can be used to help farmers in developing nations.

While he’s here, “we saw it as an opportunity for him to help educate the community about this subject,” said Simplot Director of Communications Doug Cole, who heard Lynas speak about the use of GMO technology in January during the National Potato Conference.

Cole said genetic engineering “is a very complex subject in a lot of people’s minds and he does a nice job of explaining it.”

Lynas’ presentation is being organized by Food Producers of Idaho, which includes Simplot and 40 other farm-related groups.

Idaho farm industry leaders said they’re eager to hear Lynas speak and they hope the event attracts skeptics as well as supporters of genetically engineered crops.

“I hope there is a good community turnout on both sides of the issue,” said former farmer Doug Jones, executive director of Growers for Biotechnology.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the Center for Food Safety, which opposes genetically engineered crops, disputed whether Lynas played more than a minor role in the anti-GMO movement.

“The reason he’s gotten so much attention (is because he’s) promoted himself as some type of leader of the anti-GMO movement,” Gurian-Sherman said. “It’s amazing to me how much credibility that guy has been able to develop just by carrying water for the industry.”

Gurian-Sherman said Lynas’ background is secondary to his claims that genetically engineered crops offer huge benefits with little risks.

“We and lots of scientists disagree with that,” he said. “The problems outweigh the benefits considerably.”

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