Greenpeace claims GM technology eclipsed by ‘safer’ genetic techniques, renews Golden Rice attack

Greenpeace is set to launch a series of attacks against crop biotechnology this week. It has scheduled a news conference for Friday titled “Ecological Agriculture, A Climate Resilient Model of Agriculture: The Way Forward,” which purportedly makes  its case against vitamin-enhanced Golden Rice.

According to the Greenpeace news release, the panel of speakers will address what it calls “Ecological Agriculture,” which Greenpeace says is a model of farming better adapted to deal with climate change. Janet Cotter, a Greenpeace scientist, will lead a parade of speakers including activist groups from the Philippines and Thailand and a farmer’s testimonial experience and opposition to GMOs.

The anti-GMO advocacy groups claims that GMOs have been an expensive failure, citing among other examples vitamin-enhanced Golden Rice, which has been slow to develop and gain approval–in part because of protests by Greenpeace and other campaigning groups.

Greenpeace has upped its offensive against Golden Rice this year, claiming it is a Trojan horse to soften the public opposition to GMOs that Greenpeace itself has helped create.

“Those promoting ‘Golden’ rice in the UK and elsewhere appear to be doing so more as means of promoting the wider GM agenda–and attacking opponents of the ‘GM project’ –than as serious means of solving problems in the global south,” Greenpeace wrote on its website this summer.

And they entirely miss what are for us the main issues in the debate. First, problems of malnutrition are best addressed in their totality, not by a relentless focus on a single nutrient out of the hundreds essential for good health.

‘Golden’ rice is far from being a sustainable solution to vitamin deficiency – it encourages a diet based solely on rice. In Greenpeace’s opinion, the tens of millions of dollars invested in the development and promotion of GM ‘Golden’ rice would have been better spent in supporting solutions that work.

Ecologically farmed home and community gardens can contribute to healthy and varied diets by directly empowering people to produce their own nutritious food. This is the real long-lasting solution Vitamin A Deficiency VAD) affected communities need.

Oddly, Greenpeace is also expected to announce it’s support for a version of genetic modification that it claims is uniquely different from crop genetic engineering.

“Whilst the debate between GM and non-GM has used up most of the political oxygen, this report shows it is not the only–or indeed, the best–show in town. There is a growing range of non-GM biotechnologies which show how a growing world population can be fed at a time when natural environments are increasingly stressed,” Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr told the Guardian in anticipation of the Friday press conference.

Some scientists called the claims by Greenpeace “bizarre” and “hypocritical.” There is not much different between MAS and GE, they say.

“What they are talking about is essentially the suite of technologies that spearhead the ‘green revolution’, which eco groups such as Greenpeace have steadfastly rubbished for decades. Now they see it as agriculture’s saviour,” said Johnjoe McFadden, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey.

“If GM is not up to much then why has it been so successful that crops such as soya are now nearly all GM worldwide. Who knows best how to grow their own crop –farmers or Greenpeace?”

Greenpeace has been running a disinformation campaign against Golden Rice and GMOs for years. In 2012, the Asian arm of Greenpeace issued an alarming press release headlined: “24 children used as guinea pigs in genetically engineered ‘Golden Rice’ trial.”

Related article:  Sorry Greenpeace, Golden Rice is a win for nutrition and health

“Big business hustling in of one the world’s most sacred things: our food supply,” Greenpeace warned in the release. The Philippines, it said, was the next ‘target.’

So-called Golden Rice—the genetically modified, vitamin A-enhanced version of white rice—has been in development for more than a decade. It is a dramatic improvement over the world’s most popular staple. In 1999, Swiss and German scientists used “open source” technology to develop Golden Rice, the first major genetically enhanced food in the new generation of bio-engineered grains, fruits, and vegetables that consumers actually eat directly.

The new rice variety was produced by splicing two genes (one from the daffodil, which gives the rice its golden color, and one from a bacterium that helps the process along) into white rice so it produces beta-carotene, which the body can convert to Vitamin A. Newer varieties have been tweaked to add iron, and to help the body more readily absorb the iron already in white rice.

According to the United Nations, more than half the world is vitamin deficient. White rice represents 72 percent of the diet for the people of Bangladesh and nearly as much in Laos and Indonesia; more than 40 percent in the Philippines, Madagascar and Sierra Leone; around 40 percent in Guyana and Suriname. Although white rice is a filling food and can be grown in abundance, it has a major drawback: it lacks Vitamin

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) weakens the immune system, increasing the risk of infections such as measles and malaria. Severe deficiencies can lead to corneal ulcers or blindness. It especially targets children and pregnant women. The World Health Organization notes there are more than 100 million VAD children around the world. Some 250,000 to 500,000 of these children become blind every year, with 50 percent of them dying. In Asia and Africa, nearly 600,000 vitamin A-deficient women die from childbirth-related causes.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has taken a lead role in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, to bring Golden Rice to market. Helen Keller International, a leading global health organization that reduces blindness and prevents malnutrition worldwide, joined the Golden Rice project to further develop and evaluate Golden Rice

Greenpeace and like-minded groups argue that tinkering with the genome of food or crops will unleash a genetic Godzilla that threatens the future of mankind. This is not hyperbole. They claim that Trojan-horse genes not subject to checks and balances in nature could be “released” into the environment causing untold havoc, and could physically harm children.

“Food insecurity is brought about by lack of enough land, by decreasing rice production and decreasing incomes,” said one Golden Rice opponent. “Only through a genuine land reform which ensures farmers’ access to sufficient rice and other food sources will farmers start to become healthy again.”

Greenpeace is campaigning vigorously to block Golden Rice trials throughout Southeast Asia, instead promoting vitamin pills, organic gardening and political empowerment rather than readily available food—which of course does little for children going to bed hungry and malnourished each night.

Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, is a Senior Fellow at the World Food Center, Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy, University of California-Davis. Follow @JonEntine on Twitter


27 thoughts on “Greenpeace claims GM technology eclipsed by ‘safer’ genetic techniques, renews Golden Rice attack”

  1. Recently a man who runs a nonprofit in El Salvador tried to convince me these anti-gmo NGOs have little to no impact on governments. He cited their yearly lobbying total $17,000 as proof. He claims the pro-gmo lobbies are simply doing it wrong. I wonder if there is supporting evidence for this in the case of Golden Rice.

    • Hi David, I believe that claim is very naive. First the formal money total is irrelevant. In the US for example, money totals on lobbying are reported but expenditures on grassroots efforts, web campaigns, etc. are not–and that’s where advocacy groups focus their time and money. More important, these groups are experts in creating fear, which influences government decision making. Making a positive case is much less sexy than selling danger.

      • Thanks Jon. I wish you or someone would write a definitive expose on financial tactics of these anti-NGOs. I’ve been doing research in my own way and it does seem like their web presence is enormous. I agree they spend their money winning over converts in the general population. I made list of the most influential anti-gmo NGOs and supporting foundations here. Full disclosure of their finances would be enlightening to say the least.

        • The main thing to keep in mind is that anti-GMO organic activists have tax-free charitable status. And that’s the root of the problem. Take that away, and these activists will have to go out and get real jobs.

          The other thing to keep in mind is that these are all ORGANIC activists. And when groups like Greenpeace stop life-saving technologies like GMO Golden Rice, they’re committing mass genocide. And we need to have the courage to call them on this.

          • It’s pointless to call the anti-GM people on their ridiculous ideas. They always have an answer, which usually eventually points to a government conspiracy of some sort. None of it is provable, therefore easy to put out there in the public space with impunity. I work full-time in the organic/sustainable circles. The amount of bad information out there, to promote deliberately the anti-GM agenda would surprise even those who think they have seen it all. Then again, maybe not.

          • Mischa Popoff, you can’t be serious. You can’t change random elements of food and expect everything else to turn out the same way. Don’t you realize that GMO crops are crosspollinating with wild types and that these are novel organisms, randomly interacting with all kinds of other biological life? Do you see how this is not good for the planet? Try answering that first, I need to get a feeling for what level of thinking ability I’m dealing with here.

          • Our domesticated crops have been cross-pollinating with wild varieties for hundreds of years. So what?

            Cross-pollination is as natural and is to be expected, as surely as the fact that we’ve been able to domesticate crops for food from wild plants.

            Our domesticated and GMO crops will always cross-pollinate back as surely as wolves can breed with dogs. And I’ll bet you can’t point to a single negative consequence of this.

      • Here is his response posted on gmosf. “Nathan Weller I didn’t know that Genetic Literacy dabbled in conspiracy theories…unfortunately, your article (and its comment section) continue to make unsubstantiated claims about this so-called enviro “boogeyman” thesis. It was also written by someone who either has no experience working in the non-profit sector, in which all expenditures are made public in the United States–or doesn’t care to understand these groups per his own sense of cognitive dissonance. If he had verifable data about the extent to which Greenpeace influences this debate, he’d produce. He does not, and therefore relies on emotion rather than facts–not very pro-science of him.
        Meanwhile in the United States, pro-GM groups are outspending the antis by a factor of at least 3:1. In some cases, per mutlple factors of several 100 to one, per direct lobbying expenses. Those that continue to proffer a “Greenpeace boogeyman” narrative do so without any facts. I think they should 1. realize that GMs on the agregate are largely winning the debate worldwide, and 2. dedicate their time to something more effective other than revelling in going up against the Greenpeace narrative that makes their blood boil. Without any data to support the notion that the Greenpeaces are “winning” the debate, these sorts of people appear juvenile.”

    • According to the EU transparency register, Greenpeace European Unit has a total budget of 1.8 million Euros, out of which 1 to 1.25 million go to lobbying EU institutions. They have 13 lobbyists registered with the European Parliament.

      As a point of comparison, the company which so many people love to hate spends between 400,000 and 450,000 Euros, with two registered lobbyists. BusinessEurope, the head representative of European business spends 4 million to 4.25 million Euros with 21 registered lobbyists.

      Why the difference in lobbyists numbers? Industry has to come forward with constructive proposals, facts (well, not always…), and tend to work with the Commission, in which the legislative initiative is vested. Greenpeace and others essentially peddle FUD. Their main target in Brussels is the European Parliament.

  2. I’m starting to wonder if they shouldn’t market golden rice in the USA first. I would love to be able to buy it and would immediately do so if it was on the shelf at my local market.

    • I’d buy it in a heartbeat, but I believe it still has to pass regulatory trials. It doesn’t help the process when the activists burn down test fields and discredit studies.

      There is some amusement to be had, though, when the misguided activists call for more testing, then burn down the test crops, and then criticize the technology for taking too long to get to market.

  3. Time to take the gloves off. Greenpeace has one goal, and one goal only: to promote ORGANIC farming, and to in fact take farming back in time by at least a half century. The sooner we recognize that Greenpeace’s objections to the science of genetic engineering are all driven by their support for organics, the sooner we can begin to unravel their scheme.

    • Sorry, Greenpeace has one goal, and one goal only: ensure its continued existence. Fighting against GMOs in Europe is an excellent sales item: they get visibility and media attention (often from extremely cheap actions) and hence money.

      GMOs are not a moneymaker for activist groups like Greenpeace in the USA. Hence GMOs are very low on Greenpeace’s agenda there; that’s at least my perception from their websites.

      GMOs are on the political agenda in Sout-East Asia. Greenpeace can’t afford to be absent from the scene. So they are active, and visibly so, though they maintain a cohort of vassal « NGOs » to which they delegate the dirty work in
      some countries. Moreover, there are a lot of affluent city-dwellers… and hence there is money to tap…

        • Oh, I was teasing you. And suggesting to other readers that the Greenpeace case is much worse than your description.

          It seems to me that you have the relatively “good” GP in the States (by the way, they can hardly compete with the radical gurus), we have the bad one in Europe and South East Asia has the ugly.

          By the way, this is what I have posted on their website :

          « Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it. »
          Adolf H.

          But do Greenpeace and its senior scientist really believe their lies?

          Take the picture. GE is said to continue « industrial agriculture », whatever that means. Do you really believe genetic engineering to do this, to be exclusively serve « industrial
          agriculture »? Is cotton growing in India or Burkina Faso « industrial agriculture »? Papaya growing in Hawai?

          MAS is said to be compatible with « ecological farming », whatever that means, which implies a contrario that GE is not. Bt crops, which reduce the amount of applied insecticides, would not contribute to « ecological farming »?

          Should we continue the dissection?

          Oh! By the way, « Conventional breeding: does not transfer genes between species » is wrong too.

          And by the way also, GP’s Aruna Rodrigues, who was the main petitioner before the Supreme Court of India in the Bt brinjal case produced an “expertise”, an affidavit, from Gilles-Éric Séralini which contains statements that are plainly false and which both GP and
          Séralini could not ignore that they were false.

          • Yes. But as insidious as Greenpeace is, they’re nothing compared to organic activists. And I’ll tell you why…

            The organic “industry” is the first environmental movement ever to boast its own market-based revenue stream.

            So while Greenpeace is out there lobbying to convince people to OPPOSE things like fracking, nuclear power and fur coats, organic activists are out there selling supposedly organic food to the tune of BILLIONS of dollars.

            This is the first antiestablishment political movement to also be a marketing movement. And that’s scary, especially since we subsidize the organic industry.

  4. Oh, Janet Cotter. Swell. She was the one who gave a presentation to the NAS recently, right? And she was completely clueless when the committee asked her questions about her MAS claims. A second committee member tried to help her out by clarifying the awful answer she gave, and she punted again. A complete buffoon.

    So that should be funny.

  5. Great article as usual, Jon. However, I would make a slight edit for clarity. In the paragraph beginning “The new rice variety…” I would change “white rice” to “rice endosperm.” A common misconception is that white and brown rice are different varieties of rice, when really white rice is just milled or polished brown rice. indicates that GR has been engineered to produce beta carotene in the endosperm because of the longer shelf life of white rice. So “brown” GR contains beta carotene too, it just also has a fatty bran layer that’s prone to oxidation. The wording here indicates that the gene only exists in the white rice. (I’m a rice processing research student at the University of Arkansas, by the way, hence my inordinate interest.)

  6. Just a second: John Entine are you claiming that Greenpeace is about to release its own GMOs into the market? Is that really what you’re claiming here? It’s extraordinary to me that a man could be so disingenuous that this is what he ends up claiming to try to manipulate people into thinking he’s correct. I was searching around trying to find where this GMO technology by Greenpeace was coming from. Try sticking with the facts and normal, scientific terminology next time.

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