Greenpeace: Harbinger of Death

There is a large multinational organisation out there that is at least partially responsible for millions of deaths. They act on ideological notions that bear no relation to reality. They persecute, literally, individuals who are brave enough to publicly contradict them; actively trying to discredit them both personally and professionally. They contact employers of said people to try to get them sacked. They knowingly tell lies to sway public opinion their way, successfully waging a campaign of fear for over twenty years now.

The organisation in question is not a maker of weapons of war nor some nefarious financial institution nor an insidious political party: it’s Greenpeace.

For over twenty years Greenpeace has been the leading voice speaking out against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and all the things I said in the first paragraph are true. The scientific evidence in favour of GMOs, and in this instance we’re talking about genetically modified food crops, is so overwhelming that anyone who has looked into the science and still stands against it to the extent that Greenpeace does can only be doing so for ideological reasons.

Most famous has been their opposition to Golden Rice. Golden Rice is a GMO developed by Professor Ingo Potrykus during the 1990s. He modified a standard variety of rice so that it would produce β-carotene. β-carotene is the precursor of vitamin A, a deficiency of which leads to blindness, problems with the immune system and death. In southeast Asia and large parts of sub-Saharan Africa vitamin A deficiency is a very real and very serious problem. About half a million children per year go blind from a lack of this simple compound that westerners take for granted in their daily diets. 50% of children that go blind die within a year of doing so.

The problem is that the staple food of these people, rice in SE Asia and plantain in sub-Saharan Africa, contains no vitamin A at all. Golden Rice, so called because it has a golden tinge to it from the β-carotene, is nutritious enough to stave off this suffering. For Africa there is a β-carotene enriched GMO plantain that does the same thing.

Professor Potrykus has developed this completely open source; no one, no one at all stands to make a penny from this initiative; it has been done in a spirit of humanitarianism. The seeds can be given away for free and farmers are subsequently at liberty to keep everything they grow, feed themselves for as long as they choose and/or sell any excess they have.

The science behind Golden Rice is quite simple. Rice can actually produce vitamin A already, but only in the inedible leaves, not in the grain. By inserting two genes into the rice genome we are able to switch on the already existing cellular machinery to make the β-carotene in the grains too.

This is truly a win-win scenario, but millions of people are dead that needn’t be because a small but determined enclave of ideologically motivated organisations, spearheaded by Greenpeace, have successfully manipulated public opinion against the evidence and lobbied governments into submission. Notoriously, having shouted for evidence of safety and efficacy from the scientific community they have led the wonton destruction of fields of GM crops to stop that evidence being collected.

The reason I’m writing about this today is that a letter was recently written, signed by 107 Nobel laureates, imploring Greenpeace to change their stance and get behind the science. I am pleased to say that the letter is strongly worded and pulls no punches. They clearly state the benefits of GMOs:

Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.

I suspect that in the coming weeks I’ll do a series of posts on the reality behind GMOs, their benefits are not to be discounted and many of the apparent disadvantages of them are either pure scaremongering or outright falsehoods. The Nobel laureates go on to call out Greenpeace on their position and to challenge governments to stand up to them:

WE CALL UPON GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD to reject Greenpeace’s campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general; and to do everything in their power to oppose Greenpeace’s actions and accelerate the access of farmers to all the tools of modern biology, especially seeds improved through biotechnology.

The ending is perhaps the best part, emphasis is theirs:

Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped. How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a “crime against humanity”?

Like I said, they’re not pulling their punches. But nor should they. Greenpeace has terrorised the field, pun intended, for decades and it is time to bring it to an end. The human population continues to grow apace and the UN predicts that the world needs to double food production by 2050. GMOs are not the only answer to how we go about doing that, but they are certainly a large part of it.

A lot of the work that Greenpeace does is worthy and, indeed, necessary. It’s hard to see why an organisation that normally wields science for the power of good can have got it so horribly wrong in this case. I fear that they are too entrenched to be rescued now. They issued a response to the letter that doubled down on their position; it’s actually so wrong it borders on being deranged. They claim that Golden Rice doesn’t even exist (it does) and that it cannot help with vitamin A deficiency (it does).

It would appear that it must be the governments of the world that will have to stand up to Greenpeace and their ilk; hopefully, with encouragement like that provided by the 107 Nobel laureates in this letter, they will feel empowered enough to do so.

It basically looks like rice that has been cooked with some turmeric. Image courtesy of the International Rice Research Institute

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