Knowledge for better food systems

100 Nobel laureates call out Greenpeace for Anti-GMO obstruction in developing world

Photo: Sonla, Flickr, creative commons licence 2.0

109 Nobel laureates have signed a sharply worded letter to Greenpeace urging the environmental group to rethink its longstanding opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The signatories include past winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine, chemistry, physics, and economics.

The letter campaign was organized by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and, with Phillip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences known as introns. The campaign’s website is supportprecisionagriculture.org.

In the letter the signatories state that Greenpeace should reconsider its position in light of scientific evidence showing that GMO food is as safe to eat as conventional food, particularly when it comes to golden rice (rice enhanced to produce beta carotene to help alleviate Vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries). The scientists regret that the organisations opposed to modern plant breeding, with Greenpeace at their lead, have repeatedly denied these facts and opposed biotechnological innovations in agriculture, arguing that “they have misrepresented their risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects”. They call on Greenpreace to “cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general”. Further the letter states:

“We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against "GMOs" in general and Golden Rice in particular. 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. /…/ Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia. ...”

Greenpeace is not the only group opposing Golden rice, and in their response they have denied that they were the main reason Golden Rice has failed to come to market, pointing to serious technical challenges and failed results:

“‘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. Corporations are overhyping ‘Golden’ rice to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops. This costly experiment has failed to produce results for the last 20 years and diverted attention from methods that already work. Rather than invest in this overpriced public relations exercise, we need to address malnutrition through a more diverse diet, equitable access to food and eco-agriculture.”

Read the full letter here, see the first coverage of the news from Washington post here and see response from Greenpeace here.  For a list of other articles covering the story see here.

We would really like to hear the FCRN community’s views both on this letter and the issue of GMOs and Golden Rice so please contribute with your comments. If you are only subscribed to the newsletter you will have to register as a member to comment, but if you have already created a member profile, you just need to be sure you are signed in.  If you have forgotten your login details do get in touch and we will sort you out.

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Will Nicholson's picture
Submitted by Will Nicholson on

my tuppence worth.  regardless of what people believe (research-based or otherwise...) surely outright opposition to emerging fields (no pun) in almost every area (excluding obvious moral wrongs) is a negative act?  For which Greenpeace are probably guilty of "research-lite opposition"?  As a Greenpeace member it is one of the areas that makes me question my membership (that and some of their destructive protest acts that seem negligible or even hypocritical sometimes).  Dialogue is the key mechanism for progress towards solutions surely, and Greenpeace should engage in that more positively.  Regradless of their ideology.

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