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 People who think nothing before damaging a World Heritage site, and who still hold outdated dogmatic anti-science views on certain technologies - technologies with the potential to save and improve millions of lives.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.

About Myles Power (746 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'.

19 Comments on Gold vs. Green

  1. Great article, thanks from the Allow Golden Rice Now campaign

    Paul Evans

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    • CheckYourFacts // May 4, 2015 at 11:41 am // Reply

      AllowHugePaychecksNow you mean?

      Your organisation is a disgrace

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      • I guess you are too stupid to read. Let me write it in crayons for you.

        “o 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.

        Like

      • Everyone involved in the Allow Golden Rice Now Society are volunteers.

        You really need to CheckYourFacts otherwise you look stupid

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  2. “Let them eat cake.” – Greenpeace

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  3. CheckYourFacts // May 4, 2015 at 11:39 am // Reply

    This article is so littered with assumptions and inaccuracies it is appalling. Regurgitating the standard pro-biotech rhetoric, and referencing the well-known corporate lobbyist and ‘environmentalist for hire’ Patrick Moore only undermines your arguments even further. As the film shows, vitamin A rich vegetables are not an expensive luxury, but can easily be grown by anyone with a square metre of ground and a little education. Furthermore, while Greenpeace is ideologically opposed to GMOs, the delay in the launch of Golden Rice has nothing to do with Greenpeace. The reality is, it doesn’t work. Multiple generations of variants have all failed. I don’t have the time or inclination to address all of the fallacies and vitriolic conjecture you include in this work of opinionated fiction, but the point of the Greenpeace film is simple. This hugely expensive technological fix for the terrible problem of VAD is a complete waste of time. Give the people the means and access to a healthy balanced diet, and VAD will be eradicated. It’s as simple as that.

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    • So what if developing golden rice is expensive? You are not paying for it, and the people donating money to golden rice would never donate to Greenpeace.
      If growing vitamin A rich vegetables is as easy as you claim and Greenpeace advocates, why is vitamin A deficiency still a problem? Instead of producing anti GMO videos and destroying crops, Greenpeace should just help farmers grow these vegetables.
      So if there is such an easy solution, why is there a problem? Let me guess, a Monsanto conspiracy with henchmen breaking in every tiny farm of the undeveloped world?

      Like

    • Mike Drake // May 4, 2015 at 7:49 pm // Reply

      Obvious Troll is Obvious…

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    • Have you seen the slums of Manila? They don’t have a square meter of space. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/06/world_manila_slum_life/html/1.stm They also don’t necessarily have places to store foods that aren’t shelf stable and as easily transportable as rice.

      How about this: you raise money to buy them all a square meter of land, point them to it, and you let us know how your project goes to increase Vitamin A levels in kids, m’kay?

      The loathesome “Let them eat kale” mindset.

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      • Gubulgaria // May 5, 2015 at 4:47 pm //

        This would sound like a convincing argument if Golden Rice worked.

        But it doesn’t, yet, so CheckYourFacts trying to plant spinach in the slums of Manila would actually be more likely to help than another twenty million thrown at a failed technology.

        GMOs hav been available for twenty years now, and the only GM crop which the industry feel confident enough to make a public fuss about is one that still isn’t ready to be submitted for regulatory approval.

        It’s a shit technology, only really useful for giving Big Agri intellectual property rights over farming.

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  4. From: R.D.Semba. The Vitamin A Story – Lifting the Shadow of Death. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics. Editor: B. Koletzko. Vol. 104 2012

    “More Vegetables and Fruit: Nice Idea, but. . .
    Although increasing the consumption of vitamin A-rich foods may seem to be a reasonable
    solution, in reality, it is much more difficult for preschool children in poor families – even those families that hold some land – to meet the requirements for vitamin A through diet alone. Animal source foods that are rich in vitamin A, such as liver, eggs, cheese, and butter, are often beyond the reach of poor families. In the India National Family Health Survey, mothers were asked whether their children had consumed any vitamin A-rich foods (liver, fish, egg, dark green leafy vegetables,
    pumpkin, carrots, yellow or orange sweet potatoes, ripe mango, papaya, cantaloupe, and jackfruit) within the last twenty-four hours. (Twenty-four hour dietary recall is accepted as a valid dietary assessment method and is commonly used in nutrition surveys.) The results showed that more than 40% of children ages twelve months to thirty-five months did not receive any vitamin A-rich foods during the day preceding the interview [83]. Less than 8% of the children had received an egg. The national survey demonstrates that young children have a low consumption of vitamin A-rich
    fruit and vegetables and explains why vitamin A deficiency remains a deeply rooted public health problem in India.

    Another critical factor that makes it difficult for preschool children to meet their dietary requirements for vitamin A through fruit and vegetables alone is that the bioavailability of vitamin A from fruit and vegetables is not high. (Bioavailability refers to the proportion of a nutrient contained in food that is actually absorbed by the body. For example, spinach leaves contains a certain concentration of vitamin A, but when spinach is eaten, not all its vitamin A is absorbed in the digestion process. In fact, the proportion absorbed is much lower.) In the early 1990s, studies conducted by Saskia de Pee, Clive West, and Muhilal in Indonesia showed that the bioavailability of vitamin A from fruit and vegetables is lower than was once believed [84]. The Institute of
    Medicine subsequently revised its guidelines regarding the bioavailability of vitamin A in fruit and vegetables [85]. The low bioavailability of vitamin A from vegetables has been corroborated by rigorous dietary studies in humans [86]. A young child between ages one year and three would need to eat eight servings of dark green leafy vegetables per day in order to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin A [87]. The problem of the low bioavailability of vitamin A in plant foods has brought the sobering reality of ‘the virtual impossibility for most poor, young children to meet their vitamin A requirements through vegetable and fruit intake alone’ [88]. The low
    bioavailability of vitamin A from plant foods explains, in part, the presence of vitamin
    A deficiency among children living amid ample supplies of dark green leafy vegetables
    and other plant sources of vitamin A.

    ……………….. UNICEF continues to distribute more than five hundred million vitamin A capsules
    each year in developing countries and has saved the lives of millions of children since beginning its vitamin A program. But the challenges to total eradication of vitamin A deficiency persist, largely as manmade ones. Donor fatigue has become a factor, and political obstacles still undermine efforts to improve child survival. So millions of children still suffer the effects of deficiency in the form of blindness, severe infections) and) for some) death. Efforts to lift completely the shadow of death cast by vitamin A deficiency – by now proven to be feasible and economical – in some places
    still entail struggle against intractable opposition. The victims who continue to suffer
    under the shadow are mainly the children.”

    Research in China (Tang et al, AJCN, 2012) which Greenpeace tried to divert attention from has shown that the beta-carotene in Golden Rice is converted very efficiently to circulating vitamin A in children. The research found that “Golden Rice may be as useful as a source of preformed vitamin A from vitamin A capsules, eggs, or milk to overcome VAD in rice-consuming populations.”

    Like

  5. Gubulgaria // May 4, 2015 at 4:34 pm // Reply

    I think this is the statement from IRRI, the developers of Golden Rice 2, which explains that they’ve had to go back to the lab due to low yields –

    http://irri.org/golden-rice/faqs/what-is-the-status-of-the-golden-rice-project-coordinated-by-irri

    “The first round of MLTs was conducted using one of the most advanced versions of Golden Rice: GR2 event “R” (GR2-R). This first round took place in 2012-13 to assess how well this version of Golden Rice would perform in different locations in the Philippines. Preliminary results were mixed. While the target level of beta-carotene in the grain was attained, average yield was unfortunately lower than that from comparable local varieties already preferred by farmers.

    An important goal of the trials was to test whether the agronomic performance of the new rice variety would be acceptable to farmers. The initial results indicate that more research is needed, with greater focus on increasing yield. Based on these results, a decision has been reached to move forward from work solely focused on GR2-R to also include other versions of Golden Rice, such as GR2-E and others.”

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  6. To have not mentioned Monsanto is a bit of a oversight I feel.

    They would appear to have a humanitarian friendly license model for the Golden Rice but history has shown us that they have been willing to act horribly.

    The fact that a stable food stuff for most of the worlds population could be replaced by a licensed product is worrying… understandably so.

    This is the greater problem with with GMOs. Turning natures bounty into a licensed product. I think you know that and I think leaving that side of things out of discussion was a decision you made.

    I think this is a discussion worth having and bravo for promoting it.

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    • Colum, Monsanto have nothing to do with Golden Rice. NOTHING.

      Syngenta helped develop GR2 but gave the patent rights away for FREE.

      No patent will be added to the price of Golden Rice and farmers will be free to keeps seeds for the next years planting.

      So to put a downer on your fabricated story

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  7. Golden rice is not a “failed” technology. It works very well. It is just in the phase of development where it is being backbred to local varieties to optimize yield and disease resistance locally. That process is progressing, but is being slowed by vandalism of field trials and ridiculously onerous regulations motivated by anti-GMO sentiment.

    There are already programs to address VAD with supplements and vegetables. They have helped, but not nearly enough. More needs to be done.

    Invoking some hidden conspiracy by Monsanto is not supported by facts. Syngenta owns the patent, and they have acquired licenses to other patents needed to develop the technology: http://www.goldenrice.org/Content1-Who/who4_IP.php All the companies with relevant patents have agreed to license them for free for humanitarian purposes. Seriously – how do you get a conspiracy out of that?

    I write further about this here: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/golden-rice-follow-up/

    Like

  8. Stopped reading when I got to your nasty, needless body-shaming. Your fat hatred renders worthless everything you say here. Curb your bigotry and educate yourself, or nothing you say has any value.

    Like

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