Saturday, June 16, 2007

Failures of Greenpeace International

Greenpeace, an organization I generally respect and have contributed money to, really has it's head up it's ass on the subject of genetically engineered food. At least that how it sounds on the subject of a GE form of rice that has been modified to produce an important precursor to vitamin A (beta carotene) which is critical to the development of eyesight in humans.

Golden rice was developed by Peter Beyer and Ingo Portrykus and seed would be distributed for free to farmers (earning less than $10K per year) in countries where vitamin A deficient diets are responsible for at least 500K cases of childhood blindness each year. But because of opposition by Greenpeace and other knee-jerk anti GMO types, it's been a hard sell. I suppose I might be less troubled by their opposition if it was based on sound reasoning but this hardly seems to be the case. Consider this explanation for opposing the distribution of Golden Rice taken from Greenpeace's web site

The human food safety of GE rice is unknown. However, the environmental risk of GE rice is clear. Golden Rice could breed with wild and weedy relatives to contaminate wild rice forever. If there were any problems the clock could not be turned back.

When the risk is high, the potential consequences devastating, and the benefits unclear, precaution is called for.

Human food safety? This is idiotic and a non-issue. Beta carotene is found in thousands of plants many of which have been consumed by humans for tens of thousands of years. Carrots are loaded with beta carotene; should we suppress the cultivation of carrots?

And how is the potential escape of a gene for beta-carotene into stocks of wild rice a risk? Even if you take the position that the genome of a wild plant should not be allowed to become "infected" with genes from an agricultural type (an absurd position anyway since genes from even widely unrelated organisms are moving between one form and another via transfer by viruses) you'd be hard pressed to prove that the presence of beta carotene poses any kind of risk.

Even the phrase "to contaminate wild rice forever" is little more than ridiculous hyperbole. If wild rice did pick up the gene for beta carotene and it was deemed necessary to bring the wild rice genome back to it's original state, well then, since the identity of the gene is known it could simply be taken out. In other words, the clock could turned back.

I cannot see Greenpeace's opposition to Golden Rice as anything other than a dogmatic reaction by an organization that seems to believe that genetic engineering is fundamentally wrong. Otherwise why would they oppose this? To be sure there are GM products that pose a clear and present danger and should be pulled off the market yesterday. Crops that have been modified to resist herbicides like Roundup are bad news because they encourage the over-application of chemicals that cause collateral damage to other organisms like amphibians and reptiles et al. Moreover, many of the business practices of companies that produce GMO crops -such as refusing to allow farmers to save seed stock- are reprehensible. But there is nothing fundamentally wrong with altering the genome of a plant or an animal (or a human for that matter).

Greenpeace needs to back off on this one and concentrate on fighting the good fight elsewhere.

Failures of Golden Rice | Greenpeace International


FaustianBargain said...

see..this is what i dont get...i agree that there is a vit A deficiencies in children in several third world countries. but there are also several natural sources of vitA available. just export carrots. people are malnourished because they are poor. we dont need to ship them rice loaded with vit A. if you are ship them vit A, why not ship them carrots that doenst have any patents attached to it already? alternatively, if golden rice is set to be grown in these countries, surely..a patch of land that can grow rice can grow carrots and green vegetables. it doesnt make sense.

also..vit A is kinda dicey. different age groups require different amounts. kids need lesser than adults. but adults need less calories than kids..esp in the form of rice being carbs. from my narrow limited observations, rice eating communities generally cut down rice in their diets as they age because it causes insulin/sugar issues. are you going to deliver the right amount of vitA to the rice eating malnourished third worlder? its not like vitA gets flushed out of the system. an overdose can cause vitamin A poisoning which is quite serious. an over exposure to vitamin A can cause serious problems..esp with children. so the idea itself doesnt seem sound.

but..BUT..i can certainly appreciate the science behind golden rice and i think it should be used for humanitarian during a famine or when making packaged food aid...for short term relief. ultimately, it is still a crutch. we can still get vit A from green vegetables and carrots. impressing that upon population is the real solution.

i still think that there are uses for golden rice. i hope they dont sell it as a GMO crop. it wont end well.

also, you said: "Even the phrase "to contaminate wild rice forever" is little more than ridiculous hyperbole. If wild rice did pick up the gene for beta carotene and it was deemed necessary to bring the wild rice genome back to it's original state, well then, since the identity of the gene is known it could simply be taken out. In other words, the clock could turned back."

not without destroying all the remaining crops and seeds. rice is not a natural carrier of vit A. i am puzzled as to why they want to do this. and dont think anyone is going to reimburse the farmers when the 'vit A gene' has to be 'removed'. this has happened before.

i strongly urge you to take a look at future of food, a documentary.. its available in netflix the last time i checked. > website here.

found two youtube clips on gmo for you here>

FaustianBargain said...

youtube also has clips from futureoffood..part 1-7..not all of it, but for a looksie..

part 2:

just search for future of food in youtube.

Anonymous said...

"just export carrots"

Huh? They are poor to begin with and you want to ship them carrots when they can grow their own food and sustain themselves? Your rational makes no sense.

I also think the hubbub over GM foods is overblown. We've been messing with our food since we figured out fire.

FaustianBargain said...

anon, i took two when food is given as food aid..second, when GM golden rice is given as seed. 'export carrots' was supposed to be an example of absurd irony.

the point is even when golden rice doesnt ask for royalties, the crop still has to be sold to people. adding overheads to the cost, what makes you think that this will be cheaper than regular rice and that the poor will actually have access to it? for one thing, it has to be cheaper than conventional rice. and if it isnt, it has to be cheaper than the cost of conventional rice+cost of carrots that the people can buy anyways. the whole just doesnt make sense.

surely, the idea of selling the harvest of the seeds for golden rice..nobody is giving it away for free. the whole 'rescue plan' seems to be put together at the last minute. i did a little digging and turns out that they approached nestle to sell/market it first. when nestle turned it became a 'humanitarian' grain. sounds a little fishy to me now.

but they do demand royalties for anything over $10000. $10000 is not a lot of money even in the third world countries, you know. and rice farms are not little vegetable patches in one's garden. that is easily what a landowner/farmer(at least in south india) will make with one harvest.

i can see how cultivated vitA golden rice is given away at a low price/free to malnourished communities can be useful. i dont see much hope for it as a commercial seed for rice farms.

rallyround said...

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

Since Golden Rice was condemned for containing streptomycin resistant E.Coli genes millions of children in third world countries have been saved from malnutrition blindness and other vitamin deficiencies by proper training in food gardening.

A few free range chickens fed on conventional rice and other scraps will supply sufficient eggs and protein to freed a world class athlete.

No culture in the world lives on a monofood diet.

The arrogance of scientists who want to risk the environment by proving that they can add stand alone ingredients into a single plant is beyond all reason.
Next we will be having bulldogs with rubber teeth.

Jimmy said...

What many people fail to realize is that anti-technology advocacy organizations such as the Greenpeace International and Friends of the Earth (FoE)must perfect to an art the act of lambasting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to remain afloat. Failure to do this, albeit with much gusto, will be tantamount to filing for bankruptcy. They have to bash and bash and bash and bash genetically modified foods to keep donations coming. Do these two organizations want to tell the world that there is nothing good in agricultural biotechnology?

I gather anti-GMOs lobby groups spend about $500 million a year to trash GM food. Why on earth can't they sponsor atleast one study of a crop that can alleviate hunger in developing countries?

I come from Africa where agriculture still relies on obsolete technology. In the 1980s, my own mum used to harvest a lot of food. This is not the case nowadays. Why? She keeps on recycling old seeds. I would be happy if she can be allowed to grow improved seeds that can guarantee her a bumper harvest, enough to feed my sisters and brothers and export the rest to the U.S. to satisfy the biofuel industry.


FaustianBargain said...

james, you say that

'I gather anti-GMOs lobby groups spend about $500 million a year to trash GM food.'

first of all..where did you hear this? secondly, do you know how much GMO companies(there are six) spend per year to promote GM food? thirdly, can you check and tell me if Greenpeace and FoE are for-profit companies?

i come from India. we had a 'green revolution' a couple of decades ago. yes, we used bio tech to increase productivity and to deal with the country's hunger. yes, foreign companies and ngos were involved. but it was done through democratic process. we did not allow foreign companies to come into the country, 'borrow' from our gene banks, patent it and control our soil. money was pumped into rural infrastructure and R&D. there was transparency and traceability.

unfortunately, if we were to collabarate with GMO companies, india will lose a lot. the #1 reason is because GMO companies are profit making corporates and sneaky ones at that because they refuse to disclose. they guard thier patents. this is unacceptable.

lastly, i direct you this guardian article >,,2086227,00.html

take care.

James said...

You need to gather the names of all anti-GMOs organizations in the U.S., then go to Here you'll find what their annual income is and the fat salaries that those who run them get. If you're in the UK, you can get all this information here -
No.2 - you say they guard their patents jealously. If you're a scientist, you should know that it cost a fortune to innovate a product. You don't innovate and then dole out the secrets of your innovation to all and sundry. Every capitalist will tell you that Return on Investment (ROI)defines scientific innovation.

With all due respect to you (I note that you're too kind and civil in your writing), there seems to be in you some haemophobia towards big corporations. Governments don't innovate, private companies do, because they have the resources. Governments only create conducive environment for innovation. Developing countries have no option but to align themselves to rich multinational biotech companies. They hold the purse for innovative research and training. If you don't have you don't have. This is the situation developing countries find themselves in.

FaustianBargain said...

you are mistaken. i am not anti corporation. i am anti-arm twisting tactics by corporations.