Tag Archives: Anti-GMO

The tarnishing of Golden Rice

A few ounces would ameliorate the ravages of vitamin A deficiency— Photo credit Getty Images

An editorial in Science magazine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said it eloquently: “If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other nongovernmental organizations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.”

Gilbert Ross wrote this op-ed for the Financial Post 

Golden Rice is a genetically-modified food (often referred to with the shorthand GMO). Although there is no reason to suspect that this process has any innate risk — quite the contrary in fact — there is a highly vocal activist movement staunchly opposed to GMO foods for various reasons, none of which have any scientific basis. Perhaps the most relentless of these groups is Greenpeace, always in the forefront of anti-science advocacy, using any and all means at their disposal.

GMO crops are grown in nearly every country in the Americas and in Asia. For reasons of consumer preference, there is no GMO wheat, nor — with the exception of Golden Rice — is there bioengineered rice. After billions of servings consumed worldwide there are no valid reports of harm to anyone attributable to the GMO itself.

All this evidence notwithstanding, the anti-technology activist groups, in league with the organic food lobby, have succeeded in scaring most members of the EU away from accepting these products: “Frankenfood, Non!” is their rallying cry.

A few ounces would ameliorate the ravages of vitamin A deficiency

(…snip…)

Golden Rice detractors have managed to convince the media and the public that Golden Rice is some sort of money-maker for agribusiness. On the contrary, the developers of Golden Rice were and are in the public domain, and they have vowed to provide their miracle rice free of charge where it’s needed — pending regulatory approval, if ever that should come.

Make your opinion known to anyone with authority in this area.

Ross is Medical and Executive Director, The American Council on Science and Health.

The Greenpeace anti-humanity campaign will reverse only when and if the leadership calculates there is more money to be raised, and more status to be gained — by supporting GMO crops, by supporting modern agriculture in Africa, and by supporting the elimination of energy poverty (i.e., nuclear energy). Oh — and there is that Climate Change issue isn’t there?

I don’t know whether GMO labeling should be required

 Excerpted from a long essay by Adam Merberg:

That brings me to one reason I’m less than optimistic about the potential of labels to foster consumer acceptance of biotechnology. I think that the public discourse surrounding agricultural biotechnology is broken. Instead of discussing real issues, we talk about bogus health concerns or Indian farmer suicides. Fixing this will require moving beyond sound bites, and I find it hard to believe that dodging an honest conversation about real issues is a good way to start. Will eradicating one anti-GMO talking point really give us a more nuanced conversation?

Source: http://www.inexactchange.org/blog/2013/11/10/i-dont-know-whether-gmo-labeling-should-be-required/

Greenpeace Golden Rice stance baffling

The introductory paragraphs of an op-ed by Patrick Moore, the former head of Greenpeace:

It was 43 years ago when I boarded an old fishing boat named the Phyllis Cormack in Vancouver on the first Greenpeace campaign to stop nuclear testing in Alaska. 


I never dreamed that 43 years later, Greenpeace would be arriving in Vancouver on a $32 million ship, and that this time I would be going down to protest against them.


I’m still proud of the work Green-peace did during the 15 years I was in the leadership. I left because it had drifted from a humanitarian effort to save civilization from all-out nuclear war to an organization that sees humans as the enemies of the Earth. How else could it justify its opposition to Golden Rice?


Two humanitarian scientists, Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer, used their knowledge of genetics to create Golden Rice, a variety of rice that contains beta carotene, the essential nutrient that we make into vitamin A. 


They were aware that two million people, mostly young children, die each year from vitamin A deficiency. Most of them live in urban slums in Asia and Africa and eat little more than a cup of rice each day. 


Conventional rice contains no beta carotene, resulting in 250 million preschool children who have chronic vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is necessary for eyesight and the immune system. As many as 500,000 children go blind each year, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind, according to the World Health Organization.


Greenpeace has made a concerted effort to block Golden Rice’s introduction since it was announced in 2000. 


The organization has waged a campaign of misinformation, trashed the scientists who are working to bring Golden Rice to the people who need it and supported the violent destruction of Golden Rice field trials at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.


How does Greenpeace justify this heartless behavior? 


(…snip…)

The likely answer to Moore’s question is “Because we can raise more money by opposing than supporting GMO”. The Greenpeace advocacy will reverse when the leadership calculates there is more Greenpeace $$ and growth by supporting GMO (and nuclear, etc.)

Eleven top scientists: Standing Up for GMOs

On 8 August 2013, vandals destroyed a Philippine “Golden Rice” field trial. Officials and staff of the Philippine Department of Agriculture that conduct rice tests for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) had gathered for a peaceful dialogue. They were taken by surprise when protesters invaded the compound, overwhelmed police and village security, and trampled the rice. Billed as an uprising of farmers, the destruction was actually carried out by protesters trucked in overnight in a dozen jeepneys.

The global scientific community has condemned the wanton destruction of these field trials, gathering thousands of supporting signatures in a matter of days.* If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other nongovernmental organizations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.

…snip…

The eleven signatories to this AAAS Science bulletin are at the top of every relevant field and academy: 

Bruce Alberts is President Emeritus of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and former Editor-in-Chief of Science.

Roger Beachy is a Wolf Prize laureate; President Emeritus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, MO, USA; and former director of the U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

David Baulcombe is a Wolf Prize laureate and Royal Society Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. He receives research funding from Syngenta and is a consultant for Syngenta.

Gunter Blobel is a Nobel laureate and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Professor at the Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA.

Swapan Datta is Deputy Director General (Crop Science) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, India; the Rash Behari Ghosh Chair Professor at Calcutta University, India; and a former scientist at ETH-Zurich, Switzerland, and at IRRI, Philippines.

Nina Fedoroff is a National Medal of Science laureate; a Distinguished Professor at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia; an Evan Pugh Professor at Pennylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA; and former President of AAAS.

Donald Kennedy is President Emeritus of Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA, and former Editor-in-Chief of Science.

Gurdev S. Khush is a World Food Prize laureate, Japan Prize laureate, and former scientist at IRRI, Los Baños, Philippines.

Jim Peacock is a former Chief Scientist of Australia and former Chief of the Division of Plant Industry at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Canberra, Australia.

Martin Rees is President Emeritus of the Royal Society, Fellow of Trinity College, and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Phillip Sharp is a Nobel laureate; an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA; and President of AAAS.

Possibly they have just a bit more standing than Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, et al?

Are GMOs Safe? Global Independent Science Organizations Weigh In

GMOsAreSafe

Jon Entine at  the Genetic Literacy Project has released a very useful infographic on crop biotechnology safety. This is a summary of the unambiguous safety approvals of every national scientific academy on the planet.

This is the second inforgraphic from GLP. The first is also very useful, 10 reasons we need crop biotechnology

 

Mark Lynas: Using the tools of biotechnology to advance Borlaug’s legacy

Don’t miss the recent keynote speech by Mark Lynas to the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative 2013 Technical Workshop, New Delhi. Norman Borlaug would be proud. Excerpts:

We are gathered here today, under the aegis of an international collaboration that bears his name, to continue Borlaug’s lifelong battle with wheat rust. Rust wiped out his family farm’s wheat when he was a boy, and rust was the reason Borlaug initially established the research station in Sonora.

As we all know, he and his colleagues succeeded eventually in defeating wheat stem rust for many decades, until the emergence of the resistant race Ug99 at the very end of the last century.

Although the progress of Ug99 has not been as dramatic as initially feared, susceptible wheat is still being grown all over the world, and forms a mainstay of humanity’s food supply today. A fifth of all our calories come from wheat, and the global harvest is nearly 700 million tonnes per year.

While European wheat growers keep stem rust at bay with liberal applications of fungicide, this is neither ecologically sustainable nor financially desirable over the longer term.

In south and east Asia, meanwhile, both of which produce more wheat than the whole of North America, most growers cannot afford or do not have access to fungicides.

Billions of people therefore depend on susceptible wheat varieties that are sitting ducks, waiting for an epidemic of Ug99 to be blown over on the winds from the Middle East and Africa.

I was given the mandate to talk today about ‘Using the tools of biotechnology to advance Borlaug’s legacy’, and I cannot imagine a more appropriate area where this applies than the question of tackling wheat stem rust.

Borlaug was an unusual revolutionary in that he didn’t want his revolution to stop with him. He was a lifelong advocate of innovation – and a staunch supporter of biotechnology as the promising new frontier for plant breeding.

You can see why. By today’s standards, Borlaug had to work blind, using guesswork, chance and a lengthy process of elimination with thousands upon thousands of wheat crosses to try to get just the right genetic combination.

I cannot imagine a better embodiment of Norman Borlaug’s philosophy than this successful joint effort.

**************

But unfortunately the progress of good science runs up against the hard rock of bad politics. As perhaps the world’s most political food crop, by virtue of its very nature in supplying our daily bread, wheat has so far been locked out of the biotechnology revolution.

Although many new wheats have been developed using recombinant DNA and even tested in field trials, not a single one has ever been made available to farmers – not because there was anything wrong with the new varieties, but solely because of the worldwide cloud of fear and superstition that surrounds the use of genetic engineering.

Thus, the most powerful tools offered by modern molecular biotechnology must seemingly be permanently discarded – not because of any rational assessment of risks and benefits – but because a tide of anti-science activism has drowned scientists and governments around the whole world in a tsunami of lies.

A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA

Here is an unusually well-researched NYT article on the efforts to control citrus greening. The obvious solution is to apply modern plant genetics to develop a commercial orange that is resistant to the bacterium. Southern Gardens Citrus has been funding five labs that are making excellent progress on GM solutions. But the delays in the tortuous regulatory jungle may have less financial impact on growers than the unfounded fears that have been spread by anti-GMO activists. Could the Greenpeace campaign against modern agriculture end up destroying the Florida orange industry?

The call Ricke Kress and every other citrus grower in Florida dreaded came while he was driving.

“It’s here” was all his grove manager needed to say to force him over to the side of the road.

The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. Mr. Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, in charge of two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s Natural, sat in silence for several long moments.

“O.K.,” he said finally on that fall day in 2005, “let’s make a plan.”

In the years that followed, he and the 8,000 other Florida growers who supply most of the nation’s orange juice poured everything they had into fighting the disease they call citrus greening.

To slow the spread of the bacterium that causes the scourge, they chopped down hundreds of thousands of infected trees and sprayed an expanding array of pesticides on the winged insect that carries it. But the contagion could not be contained.

(…snip…)

In his office is a list of groups to contact when the first G.M.O. fruit in Florida are ready to pick: environmental organizations, consumer advocates and others. Exactly what he would say when he finally contacted them, he did not know. Whether anyone would drink the juice from his genetically modified oranges, he did not know.

But he had decided to move ahead.

Late this summer he will plant several hundred more young trees with the spinach gene, in a new greenhouse. In two years, if he wins regulatory approval, they will be ready to go into the ground. The trees could be the first to produce juice for sale in five years or so.

Whether it is his transgenic tree, or someone else’s, he believed, Florida growers will soon have trees that could produce juice without fear of its being sour, or in short supply.

(…snip…)

Henry Miller: Exposing The Tyranny Of The Food Fascists

Henry I. Miller reviews The Food Police, a new book by agricultural economist Jayson Lusk.

(…) he exposes the sophistry of current food movements that seek a return to a romantic but imaginary view of “nature.” He observes that certain journalists, columnists, celebrity chefs, and cookbook authors have conspired to create a distorted, dystopian picture of modern agriculture, promoting the view that “the prescription for our ailments is local, organic, slow, natural, and unprocessed food, along with a healthy dose of new food taxes, subsidies, and regulation.” (Just writing that makes me gag.)

Lusk confronts many of the sacred cows of food activism. One is the silliness of compulsory locavorism – specifically, forcing municipal hospitals, schools and other institutions to source an arbitrary percentage of their food locally. He is especially critical of government subsidies for locally sourced foods: Along with a few other cities, New York doubles the value of food stamps when used at farmer’s markets, which translates to a 100% supplement in the subsidy.

Why, Lusk asks, does locavorism need public subsidies? If local foods are, in fact, tastier (and they may be if you live in the right place at the right time of year), few of us would need to be coerced into eating them. Economics 101 teaches us about the importance of the economies of scale. Because of the efficiency of large, expensive pieces of equipment, the larger a farm grows, the more efficient it tends to become and the lower its per-unit costs of production. Lusk cites data: “One study of Illinois farms showed, for example, that average total costs were 82% lower on soybean farms and 38% lower on corn farms that were larger than nine hundred acres as compared to those that were smaller than three hundred acres. Another study showed that average incremental costs were 85% lower on dairies with herd sizes greater than 2,000 head as compared with dairies with fewer than 30 cows.”

The locavores seem to have missed other important lessons of elementary economics – namely, the benefits of specialization and comparative advantage. Lusk reminds us that “by letting people specialize in those things they are relatively good at making and then trading with others, we’re all richer,” better fed and better off than if we all tried to be self-sufficient. It’s no coincidence that the cultivation of crops such as corn, wheat, citrus and grapes is clustered in certain parts of the country best suited to them.

It may not be intuitively obvious, but buying local isn’t environmentally friendly. Although local foods do travel shorter distances, there is much more to calculating environmental impact than food miles. The vast majority of greenhouse-gas emissions are released near where the commodity is grown. Therefore, it is logical to find the most efficient spots to grow our fruits and vegetables and ship them to other regions. The reality is that on a pound-for-pound basis, collectively we are likely to consume more energy getting ourselves to the supermarket than it takes to deliver a trailer-truckload of Georgia-grown Vidalia onions or Florida oranges to Wisconsin.

Lusk heaps well-deserved ridicule on food elitists like Berkeley restaurateur, activist and elitist Alice Waters, who believes the “idea that we have been indoctrinated to believe, that food should be fast, cheap and easy…is destroying the world.” She believes that for everyone, obtaining and preparing food should be as slow, expensive and hard as it is for the poorest of the poor.

Lusk has an excellent chapter on the baseless, mindless, relentless antagonism of the food police toward genetically engineered plants. He describes the venerable and very long history of the genetic improvement of crop plants. “Ten thousand years ago, wild rice was little more than a stalk of grass,” and it was “only by interfering with Mother Nature did we reach the point where rice can now account for one fifth of the world’s total caloric intake.” He cites the many proven advantages of genetic engineering – the need for far less spraying of chemical pesticides, more efficient and effective control of weeds, higher yields, and environmental benefits.

Lusk reminds us of something that is revealing yet consistently eludes the food police, who have tirelessly opposed genetic engineering: Farmers have embraced genetically engineered crops at a pace that makes them the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in history because these varieties increase the growers’ financial and food security. The “repeat index” – the percentage of farmers who plant genetically engineered crops again after trying them once – approaches 100%.

Lusk treats us to a delectable irony: The strict (and largely gratuitous) regulation of genetic engineering demanded by the food police actually benefits their worst nemesis, the Great Satan itself – Monsanto. How can that be? As Lusk observes, “Who benefits from stricter regulations that make it harder for new biotech seeds to enter the market? It certainly isn’t the small start-up firms trying to break down entry barriers to get their new invention on the market. Rather, it’s the established behemoths who have teams of lawyer and lobbyists and who can absorb the regulatory costs that keep out their smaller competitors.”

 

Kevin Folta: “Where we fail is in the deployment of technology”

University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta invests a lot of unpaid personal energy in science communications. In the volatile comments to Mark's Cornell speech, Kevin gently introduces the working scientist's perspective:

29 April 2013 at 8:31 pm

@Jim Bell . I’m sorry that you have such a negative view on the accomplishments of our human family. To me, I see it the other way around. Like you, I see us as remarkably clever, but I think we are somewhat wise. Where we don’t foresee a problem, we correct it, and learn from it.

The one instrument and technology that has changed the world the most is attached to that keyboard in front of you now. We are now instantly connected, interactive, learning together. Health care has brought our life spans to new highs with amazing new diagnostic methods and improved therapies. I could go on and on about how the human family has been a brilliant steward of technology.

There are bumps in that road. Use of nuclear weapons has been widely decried. Environmental disasters like DDT and others were halted, we learned, we corrected. Rivers once dead are alive. We make decisions with a consciousness that was not there years ago. We have a long way to go, but I think technology helps us be better caretakers of the planet.

There are successes. Nuclear power serves many in a carbon-free manner. DNA-based technologies now help diagnose and treat disease. We put a man on the moon 40 years ago. C’mon, this is good stuff.

We also have unprecedented means to predict and test for adverse effects of our technology. Genetic engineering is hardly a new science. We know more about how it works and its effects than ever. Our ability to detect problems, were they to occur, is amazing.

So unlike you I feel that our track record as a civilization is pretty awesome. Our handle on technology is great and the benefits massively outweigh risks.

Where we fail is in the deployment of technology. How can we use technology to get food, medicines, water, fuels to those that desperately need it? Once that is satisfied, how do we get them connected with educational resources and the best information?

Our job is to ensure that we leave the next 100,000 generations with a healthy, happy, functional world. Health, happiness and function will come from our understanding and implementation of science and technology.