Greenpeace’s campaign against Golden Rice is a crime against humanity

Banning this wonder food will condemn countless children to blindness and death.

Zion Lights

Topics Science & Tech World

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It’s safe to eat, it’s simple to grow and it could save the lives of tens of thousands of children. So why are the world’s poorest people being denied access to Golden Rice?

Golden Rice is a form of white rice that has been genetically modified to provide vitamin A, in order to counter blindness and other diseases in children in the developing world. Rice plants naturally produce beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, in the leaves but not in the grain. To make Golden Rice, scientists insert genes that lead to vitamin A production into the edible part of the plant as well. This simple method gives the rice its golden hue and makes it crucial in the fight against vitamin A deficiency.

Vitamin A deficiency is the world’s leading preventable cause of childhood blindness. It is widespread in Africa and south-east Asia. Every year, up to 500,000 children go blind due to vitamin A deficiency and half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight. In the Philippines alone, vitamin A deficiency affects approximately 1.7million children under five, according to the International Rice Research Institute.

In countries with limited access to varied diets, for reasons including availability and affordability, vitamin A is hard to come by and deficiency is rife. In places where vitamin A deficiency is most common, rice tends to be a staple food. In some countries, including India, Bangladesh and China, many children consume little else other than rice. Since Golden Rice is as simple to grow as ordinary white rice, it could save millions of young people from malnutrition, hunger and blindness.

This is what makes Golden Rice so groundbreaking. A single bowl of cooked Golden Rice can provide 60 per cent of the recommended nutrient intake of vitamin A for children between six and eight years old. Just 20 per cent of the recommended daily allowance can prevent or eliminate symptoms of vitamin A deficiency, such as blindness.

Yet in April this year, a Philippines court made the decision to block the growing of Golden Rice, following campaigns led by Greenpeace.

In 2021, things looked promising, when the Philippines became the first country to approve the commercial cultivation of Golden Rice. But the response from so-called environmentalists was swift and deadly. Greenpeace and other green activists embarked on a targeted disinformation campaign, arguing that the rice would contaminate other crops and that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are dangerous in general. In 2013, activists even destroyed crops on an experimental field trial of Golden Rice in the Philippines. As a result of Greenpeace’s campaign, the Philippines’ court of appeal overturned its original approval of Golden Rice.

The global scientific community has been in uproar. Sadly, scientists have been making the same arguments for two decades now but to no avail. In 2016, a third of living Nobel laureates (including James Watson, who co-discovered the basic structure of DNA) signed an open letter calling Greenpeace’s scare campaigns a ‘crime against humanity’. ‘We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognise the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against “GMOs” in general and Golden Rice in particular’, they wrote. Needless to say, their words were not heeded.

Greens have responded to gene-editing technology in much the same way they have to nuclear energy. Activists have spread misinformation about the technology, heavily campaigned against it and even succeeded in banning it completely in some countries. As a result of this lobbying under the guise of environmentalism, countless lives have been lost.

Meanwhile, stores of Golden Rice held by the Philippine Rice Research Institute are now potentially unusable. The agency needs to ascertain whether the rice can still be given to malnourished children or whether it needs to be destroyed. It is also unclear whether Golden Rice crops that have been grown for some time by farmers in the Philippines can be harvested legally under the new ruling. Greenpeace is calling this attack on farmers ‘a monumental win’.

There is growing concern that other countries will follow in the footsteps of the Philippines and turn against GM crops. Bangladesh, where vitamin A deficiency is rife, has been debating Golden Rice approval for six years now. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Hungarian government has stated that it considers all genetically modified crops to be risky and will keep the country’s agriculture free of them. Slovakia has also reaffirmed its ‘unchanging position’ against gene-editing technology.

Developed nations in Europe may have the luxury to turn their noses up at GMOs. But places like Bangladesh and the Philippines are not so fortunate. There will be awful consequences to allowing feelings to get in the way of groundbreaking scientific developments and technologies. These so-called environmentalists will have an entirely avoidable tragedy on their conscience.

Zion Lights is the founder of pro-nuclear campaign group Emergency Reactor, an environmentalist and a former spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Science & Tech World


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