In a propaganda stunt more than 100 Nobel laureates signed a letter attacking Greenpeace’s opposition to GMOs and blaming the organization for preventing the introduction of genetically engineered Golden Rice. The letter asked Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of the rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world.
The letter calls upon Greenpeace “to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general, and upon governments “to reject Greenpeace’s campaign against Golden Rice 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. Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped.”
The letter ends with an absurd question: “How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a ‘crime against humanity’?”
Such calculated, emotive language ignores the inconvenient fact that, as Prof. Glenn Davis Stone pointed out in a peer-reviewed study co-authored with development expert Dominic Glover, GM golden rice still isn’t ready and there’s no evidence that activists are to blame for the delay.
In 2014 the body responsible for the roll out of golden rice, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), announced that the rice had given disappointing yields in field trials and needed further R&D to produce a crop that farmers would be willing to grow. Stone commented, “The rice simply has not been successful in test plots of the rice breeding institutes in the Philippines, where the leading research is being done.” Stone’s study showed that the rice is still years away from being ready.
Greenpeace responded: “Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered ‘golden’ rice are false. ‘Golden’ rice has failed as a solution and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research. As admitted by the International Rice Research Institute, it has not been proven to actually address Vitamin A Deficiency. So to be clear, we are talking about something that doesn’t even exist.”
Devon G. Peña, PhD, an anthropologist at the University of Washington Seattle and an expert in indigenous agriculture, posted a comment to the new campaign’s website in which he called the laureates’ letter shameful.
He noted that the signatories were “mostly white men of privilege with little background in risk science, few with a background in toxicology studies, and certainly none with knowledge of the indigenous agroecological alternatives. All of you should be stripped of your Nobels.”
The letter campaign was organized by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and Phillip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences known as introns.
It’s no surprise that the campaign’s primary organizer, Richard Roberts, has been pushing GM food and crops. Roberts has made speeches in India claiming that millions of people in the third world would die of starvation unless GM crops were introduced, as well as highly questionable assertions about the safety of the technology.
CounterPunch discovered that he delivered a talk in Mysore on ‘A Crime Against Humanity’ declaring that rich European countries are opposing introduction of GM crops because they have sufficient food. He described the protests by Green parties in Europe against GM crops as a “crime against humanity.” He claimed that, “If I can get support from a philanthropist, I will file a case in the international court of justice.’’ And he falsely claimed: “Environmental organisations such as Greenpeace oppose GMO for political ends. There is no truth in their claim as there is no scientific proof that GM crops are harmful.”
And Phillip Sharp is a biotech entrepreneur with interests in GMO research. In 1978 he co-founded the biotechnology and pharmaceutical company Biogen and in 2002 he co-founded Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, which uses RNAi gene silencing genetic engineering technologies to manufacture therapeutics.
The Union of Latin American Scientists Committed to Society and Nature released their own letter denouncing the one produced by the Nobel laureates. They wrote: “[Transgenesis] cannot be considered an advanced science anymore because it is based on fallacious and anachronistic assumptions. Its defenders have oversimplified the scientific rationale behind GMOs to the point that the technology cannot be considered valid anymore: they have discarded rigorous science. The lack of scientific ground that justifies GMOs is also the reason why its promoters deny complex systems of knowledge, such as indigenous peoples’ cultures and livelihoods.”
“The four GM crops that are marketed massively are mainly intended for the production of biofuels and animal feed for poultry, pork and beef cattle industries: activities that consume more than 65% of the GM corn and soybean produced in the few countries that grow them, a very inefficient system from an energy point of view of agricultural production. Around these crops there is an oligopoly of transnational corporations that control the production of seeds and grains; the storage, transportation and marketing of genetically modified commodities; and the mass production of animals, which are increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. In this regard, it is clear that this model does not contribute to the goal of feeding the world, but instead competes with and overpowers traditional food production.”
And on golden rice they write: “The nutritional problems of a population are not related with the lack of a specific nutrient (in this case… pro-vitamin A), but with the general conditions of poverty and the loss of food sovereignty that has forced thousands of farmers communities to leave their lands or to be subordinated to agribusiness, whose only priority is to meet their voracious need to increase profits through monoculture, agroindustry and agro-export by occupying lands that used to be devoted to safe and nutritious food production. To believe that malnutrition problems will be overcome through bio-fortified genetically modified food is to ignore this reality.”
A report by the Institute of Science in Society notes: “Many have commented on the absurdity of offering ‘golden rice’ as the cure for vitamin A deficiency when there are plenty of alternative, infinitely cheaper sources of vitamin A or pro-vitamin A, such as green vegetables and unpolished rice, which would be rich in other essential vitamins and minerals besides. To offer the poor and malnourished a high-tech ‘golden rice’ tied up in multiple patents, that has cost $100 million to produce and may cost as much to develop, is worse than telling them to eat cake.”
“In conclusion, the ‘golden rice’ project was a useless application, a drain on public finance and a threat to health and biodiversity.”