More than 100 Nobel Laureates are calling on Greenpeace to reconsider its opposition to GMOs. Yesterday, representatives of the group of Nobel Laureates, Sir Richard Roberts, Professor Martin Chalfie and Professor Randy Schekman held a press conference at the National Press Club to explain why 110 Nobel Laureates came together now to support transgenic crops and ask Greenpeace to reverse its long-held stance against GMOs.
Sir Richard Roberts, the scientist who organized the letter campaign, shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his team’s discovery of introns in genes. He opened the press conference with a brief explanation of “precision agriculture,” his preferred term for GMOs. Genetic modification of crops is nothing new, he noted, as for thousands of years farmers have used various techniques to select for desirable traits. “Everything is a GMO,” explained Roberts. Transgenic breeding is just more precise, and crucial for bringing nutritious food to the developing world. “Why wouldn’t you want this superior technology?” questioned Roberts.
Randy Schekman, who shared the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his team’s discovery of the machinery regulating vesicle traffic in cells, went on to describe the science behind golden rice, a transgenic crop enriched with beta-carotene. Golden rice was created by a non-profit with plans to distribute the rice for free in the developing world but, according to scientists, protests by Greenpeace have interfered with its development. Roberts accused Greenpeace of creating a culture of fear, and urged the environmental group to reverse its stance. Safety concerns about GMOs may have been prudent when the technology was first introduced, but now decades later it’s clear these concerns haven’t come to fruition. As Roberts quipped, “we’ve had forty years of GMOs now but Greenpeace is still living in the 80s.”
According to Martin Chalfie, who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the important Green Fluorescent Protein widely used in research, Greenpeace’s objections to GMOs are an ever-moving target. First the organization complained golden rice had too little beta carotene, then apparently too much. These objections, according to Chalfie, aren’t based on science at all. Schekman added that he’s baffled by Greenpeace’s decision to embrace scientific consensus on climate change but reject it for GMOs.
In addition to preventing important developments in agriculture, these scientists also expressed concerns for their vocation. Some scientists are afraid to come forward, Roberts noted bluntly. “All of us who use genetic engineering in our work have been concerned,” agreed Chalfie. Nina Federoff, professor of plant biology, added that the US Right to Know’s FOIA campaign has had a severe impact on many public scientists, noting in particular the break-in to Professor Kevin Folta’s office at the University of Florida just a few days prior to this conference.
As I left the press conference, two men, one from Greenpeace and the other from Food and Water Watch, stopped each attendee as they left the room, protesting that they weren’t allowed in to the press conference. “Are you with the press?” they asked each person who filed past them. Both Greenpeace and FWW have argued that the golden rice project has problems that have nothing to do with the anti-GMO movement, citing a paper critical of the project.
Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered ‘Golden’ rice are false. ‘Golden’ rice has failed as a solution and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research. As admitted by the International Rice Research Institute, it has not been proven to actually address Vitamin A Deficiency. So to be clear, we are talking about something that doesn’t even exist.
Adrian Dubock, former project manager for the Golden Rice project at the International Rice Research Institute, has now written a response defending the work.
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) remains a killer in many parts of the developing world. And rice feeds half the world every day. Rice has to be polished for storage or it goes rancid, and polished rice contains no pro-vitamin A. There is no new data on the mortality reducing impact of providing a source of vitamin A to those that need it, as the positive effects are so clear in a research context that to withhold it would be unethical. And only Random Controlled Trials can and have isolated the one cause which relates to mortality: such data have demonstrated the 23 – 34% of global under 5 years child mortality can be prevented by an accessible source of vitamin A.
Many wonder why Greenpeace and others oppose the Golden Rice project so vociferously when its goals are free and life-saving food. As Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel tweeted — “Here’s the thing about Golden Rice. Don’t you want it to succeed?”
The text of the letter is below.
To the Leaders of Greenpeace, the United Nations and Governments around the world
The United Nations Food & Agriculture Program has noted that global production of food, feed and fiber will need approximately to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing global population. Organizations opposed to modern plant breeding, with Greenpeace at their lead, have repeatedly denied these facts and opposed biotechnological innovations in agriculture. They have misrepresented their risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects.
We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against “GMOs” in general and Golden Rice in particular.
Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.
Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia.
The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million people, suffer from VAD, including 40 percent of the children under five in the developing world. Based on UNICEF statistics, a total of one to two million preventable deaths occur annually as a result of VAD, because it compromises the immune system, putting babies and children at great risk. VAD itself is the leading cause of childhood blindness globally affecting 250,000 – 500,000 children each year. Half die within 12 months of losing their eyesight.
WE CALL UPON GREENPEACE to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general;
WE CALL UPON GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD to reject Greenpeace’s campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general; and to do everything in their power to oppose Greenpeace’s actions and accelerate the access of farmers to all the tools of modern biology, especially seeds improved through biotechnology. Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped.
How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a “crime against humanity”?
|Zhores I. Alferov||2000||Physics|
|Bruce A. Beutler||2011||Medicine|
|Elizabeth H. Blackburn||2009||Medicine|
|Paul D. Boyer||1997||Chemistry|
|Mario R. Capecchi||2007||Medicine|
|Thomas R. Cech||1989||Chemistry|
|Leon N. Cooper||1972||Physics|
|Elias James Corey||1990||Chemistry|
|Robert F. Curl Jr.||1996||Chemistry|
|Peter C. Doherty||1996||Medicine|
|Richard R. Ernst||1991||Chemistry|
|Sir Martin J. Evans||2007||Medicine|
|Eugene F. Fama||2013||Economics|
|Edmond H. Fischer||1992||Medicine|
|Jerome I. Friedman||1990||Physics|
|Alfred G. Gilman||1994||Medicine|
|Roy J. Glauber||2005||Physics|
|Joseph L. Goldstein||1985||Medicine|
|David J. Gross||2004||Physics|
|Sir John B. Gurdon||2012||Medicine|
|John L. Hall||2005||Physics|
|Lars Peter Hansen||2013||Economics|
|Leland H. Hartwell||2001||Medicine|
|Harald zur Hausen||2008||Medicine|
|James J. Heckman||2000||Economics|
|Dudley R. Herschbach||1986||Chemistry|
|Gerardus ‘t Hooft||1999||Physics|
|H. Robert Horvitz||2002||Medicine|
|Louis J. Ignarro||1998||Medicine|
|Eric R. Kandel||2000||Medicine|
|Brian K. Kobilka||2012||Chemistry|
|Roger D. Kornberg||2006||Chemistry|
|Finn E. Kydland||2004||Economics|
|Leon M. Lederman||1988||Physics|
|Yuan T. Lee||1986||Chemistry|
|Robert J. Lefkowitz||2012||Chemistry|
|Anthony J. Leggett||2003||Physics|
|Rudolph A. Marcus||1992||Chemistry|
|Barry J. Marshall||2005||Medicine|
|Eric S. Maskin||2007||Economics|
|John C. Mather||2006||Physics|
|Craig C. Mello||2006||Medicine|
|Robert C. Merton||1997||Economics|
|James A. Mirrlees||1996||Economics|
|Paul L. Modrich||2015||Chemistry|
|William E. Moerner||2014||Chemistry|
|Mario J. Molina||1995||Chemistry|
|Kary B. Mullis||1993||Chemistry|
|Sir Paul Nurse||2001||Medicine|
|Stanley B. Prusiner||1997||Medicine|
|Sir Richard J. Roberts||1993||Medicine|
|Bengt I. Samuelsson||1982||Medicine|
|Randy W. Schekman||2013||Medicine|
|Brian P. Schmidt||2011||Physics|
|Richard R. Schrock||2005||Chemistry|
|Phillip A. Sharp||1993||Medicine|
|Hamilton O. Smith||1978||Medicine|
|Thomas A. Steitz||2009||Chemistry|
|Joseph H. Taylor Jr.||1993||Physics|
|Daniel C. Tsui||1998||Physics|
|Harold E. Varmus||1989||Medicine|
|Sir John E. Walker||1997||Chemistry|
|J. Robin Warren||2005||Medicine|
|Eric F. Wieschaus||1995||Medicine|
|Robert Woodrow Wilson||1978||Physics|
|Ada E. Yonath||2009||Chemistry|