Over 100 Nobel laureates are taking on Greenpeace’s stance on GMO foods in a letter asking the environmental organization to stop opposing a potentially life-saving kind of GMO rice. Genetically engineered foods remain unpopular among Americans and others, and that could leave the new group’s campaign with an uphill battle.
The group’s letter has a clear-cut request for Greenpeace.
“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.”
For some people living in the developing world, staple crops like rice make up the majority of the normal diet. That leaves certain groups, especially children, vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to blindness or even death. Green vegetables rich in vitamins are often too expensive or just unavailable to these groups, but there’s a potential solution — Golden Rice.
“Golden Rice” is a GMO rice that produces a lot of vitamin A, and the group of Nobel laureates, led by chief scientific officer Richard Roberts of New England Biolabs, says it can save lives, but first it needs to be deemed safe for consumption by a number of organizations. Greenpeace is in the way, and according to the group’s letter and their website, the environmental organization is making its case based on lies.
“Greenpeace and their allies have claimed falsely that GMOS are dangerous, untested and inadequately regulated. But the science telling us GM crops and foods are safe has been confirmed by vast experience. Humans have eaten hundreds of billions of GM based meals in the past 20 years without a single case of any problems resulting from GM.”
Greenpeace has claimed that Golden Rice crops will either produce dangerously high levels of vitamin A, or produce too little vitamin A to be effective. According to the Nobel laureate group’s website, both of these claims are wrong, and Golden Rice is well tested.
Washington Post reports that Richard Roberts agrees with many of Greenpeace’s activities and their positions and hopes that they’ll see that they will change their views on GMOs. Still, he’s not afraid of calling some the organization’s methods scare tactics.
“We’re scientists. We understand the logic of science. It’s easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science. Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause.”
Greenpeace has not commented on the letter yet.
The Nobel laureates refer to Greenpeace’s anti-GMO efforts as propaganda, but Greenpeace is already on the side of popular opinion in the U.S. According to Pew Research, 57 percent of U.S. adults say that GMO foods are “generally unsafe” for consumption, compared to just 37 percent who say they are safe. But when the pollsters asked scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) the results flipped, 88 percent said GM foods are generally safe, versus just 11 percent who said they are unsafe.
Part of the battle is semantic. The FDA defines genetic modification as changes to the genes of plants and animals by any methodology, including traditional breeding methods. That means just about anything on the farm can be considered a “GMO,” which is a point not lost on Astrophysist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Nevertheless, crop varieties from genetic engineering go through a more complicated and onerous approval process compared to new crops coming from traditional breeding, and still many have passed that high bar.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]