Gold vs. Green

Edited by Peter

The very humble and noble beginning of the international environmental organisation, Greenpeace, began in the basement of a Unitarian church. There, in the middle of the cold war, a plan was hatched to sail a boat from Vancouver across the North Pacific to protest the testing of American nuclear weapons. Although they never made it to the test site, their story was reported across North America - which led to President Nixon cancelling the remaining test in that series. Since then they have grown in to a fully-fledged international movement receiving financial support from over 2.8 million individuals, allowing them to campaign against things they deem to be environmentally damaging.

greenpeace

Without a doubt, Greenpeace has previously been a force for good. Helping to convince governments and the population as a whole the importance of protecting the rainforests and biodiversity, to stress the need for renewable energy, and to condemn the gruesome act of whale hunting - to name a few. However, in recent years they have fallen out of favour with the general population by allowing their organisation to be hijacked by political and social activists who seem to be more concerned with globalisation and capitalism than with environmental issues. People who think nothing before damaging a World Heritage site, and who still hold outdated dogmatic anti-science views on certain technologies - technologies with the potential to save and improve millions of lives. This has lead many people, including one of the co-founders of Greenpeace (Patrick Moore), to now call the organisation “anti-human” and nowhere is this more apparent than in their militant (and almost hysterical) opposition of GM-food. In recent years, they have focused their attention on Golden rice - a GMO that has been modified to produce beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A

Vitamin A is a group of naturally occurring compounds that are important for human growth and development, as well as being needed for vision and the immune system. There are many sources of these compounds including carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, etc. meaning that if you are lucky enough to live in an affluent country, you don’t have to worry about where your next source is coming from. Unfortunately some are not so lucky and a dietary lack of vitamin A can have serious health effects. It is estimated that vitamin A deficiency is responsible for 1-2 million deaths and 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness annually. Golden rice therefore, with its ability to biosynthesize a precursor to vitamin A, is a very practical solution to a very real problem in the developing world.

The ability of Golden Rice to biosynthesize beta-Carotene using genes from maize and a common soil microorganism was first published in the year 1999 in the paper ‘Engineering the Provitamin A (β-Carotene) Biosynthetic Pathway into (Carotenoid-Free) Rice Endosperm’. The scientists involved understood the potential of their invention and began a partnership with Syngenta to help further develop the rice. Together, they were able to develop a new type of rice (Golden Rice 2), which produces up to 23 times more beta-carotene than the original. To do this, they arranged for royalty-free access to the patents and intellectual property held by several biotechnology companies who agreed not to receive any royalties from the making or selling of the rice. This is because the rice was made for humanitarian purposes and this is reflected in its patent. Farmers are permitted to keep and replant the seed and don’t have to pay royalties if they are making less that $10,000 (USD) from it.

Greenpeace have been openly vocal about their opposition to the rice and in October last year, they released a video stating their concerns named ‘All that Glitters is not Gold – The Truth about GE ‘Golden’ Rice’.

The video is 20 minutes of the purest bullshit and is so dishonest; you would be forgiven in thinking that it was a parody. It’s also incredibly insulting to the people suffering from vitamin A deficiency, as it childishly implies that the only reason these people are suffering is because they don’t know how to feed themselves properly. I am not even kidding here! The video stars a fat (and yes – I think it’s rather important to bring attention to the fact he is FAT) chef working at a rather prestigious restaurant who has the balls to say on camera that “chefs should be activists – teaching people to eat properly, teaching recipes that are easily done at home using ingredients that are readily available in the marketplace”. It should be obvious to anyone reading this that the reason people are suffering is not because they are making bad decisions when it comes to their weekly shop, but because food rich in vitamin A is not available to them. This begs the question, who is this marketed for?  It’s certainly not marketed to the people who it could help, as nowhere in this video do I see a blind person or a grieving mother who has just lost her child warn the viewers about the dangers of Golden rice.

The video also stars Professor Teresit Ramos-Peres who (rather worryingly…) works for the department of environmental sciences at Ateneo de Manila University. In the short time she appears on film, she exposes herself to be either incompetent or a liar. She says, “The biotech company claims that there is no ecological impact; nor impacts on the health of the population, but we have not found any publication regarding such claims. I am a scientist and I try to do research in the relevant publications on these issues, and I have not seen anything. What is the basis for their claim?” Genetically modified foods are subjected to more testing than any other type of food, and every credible study shows that they are safe for human and animal consumption. There are literally thousands of papers documenting the general safety and nutritional wholesomeness of genetically modified food.  How anyone can, with a straight face, go on camera whilst representing their university and say something so catastrophically incorrect is beyond me. This is by no means the only inexcusably wrong comment made in this video. One of the main concerns mentioned was that the introduction of Golden rice into the Philippines would open the door to other genetically modified crops. However, a quick Google search reveals that GMOs have been in the Philippines for over a decade.

This consensus on the safety of genetically modified food is ignored by organisations like Greenpeace who like to parrot the idea that not enough testing is done, whilst paradoxically excusing if not promoting the destruction of scientific research looking into their safety. Take, for example, the 1000 square meters of Golden rice that was uprooted by protesters in the Philippines in 2013. Beau Baconguis, a programme manager for Greenpeace, publically supported the protesters’ acts saying, “I think that the farmers know what they want. What they want is a safe environment that they can grow their crops in”. The only problem here is that, contrary to what Beau said, no local farmers participated in the uprooting. Only a small number of protesters were responsible for damaging the research, as the farmers believe that killing a living rice plant is unlucky. You can also tell by looking at these people that they aren’t, as they say, worried about contamination – none of them are wearing any protective clothing and, presumably, went about their day afterwards.

Golden Rice

Be under no illusion, if you are funding Greenpeace – even if you are only giving a few quid to a chugger on the street, you are helping to fund this misinformation. You are playing your part in contributing to the death and suffering of millions of people, simply because the organisation you support holds dogmatic views on a technology it dislikes. This inhumane opposition to golden rice means that if history does remember Greenpeace, it won’t be for their contribution to protecting the environment. It will be for the monsters they turned into and the death and suffering they caused.

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About Myles Power (569 Articles)
My name is Myles Power, and I run the educational YouTube channel, powerm1985. I spend what little free time I have sharing my love of SCIENCE! through home experiments, visiting sites of scientific interest, and angrily ranting at pseudoscience proponents. I am also one of the founding members of the podcast 'The League of Nerds' - which I co-host with James from 'The History of Infection'.

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