GM golden rice: Tables turn on Greenpeace
Dr Patrick Moore was one of the founding members of the NGO back in the early 70s, but since his dissent in 1986 he has emerged as a vehement critic of its work. Most recently he protested against what he sees as Greenpeace’s fear mongering around golden rice, a genetically modified crop enriched with beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.
Supporters of the technology have said that it holds the potential to tackle vitamin A deficiency, a problem particularly prevalent in developing countries. The World Health Organisation estimates that 250 million preschool children are affected by vitamin A deficiency, which reduces immunity and can lead to blindness. The GM rice sees that the beta-carotene already naturally occurring in the plant’s inedible leaves will also occur in its grains.
Critics like Greenpeace say not enough is known about how the strain will mutate and fear that the technology – largely funded by agribusiness giant Syngenta – will be monopolised by profiteering corporations. They say this is an unnecessary measure since effective programmes aiming to relieve the deficiency problem through overall diet improvement already exist.
Friends with influence
Last week Moore protested outside Greenpeace’s London headquarters in an attempt to draw attention to what he sees as a misinformed and uncensored influence over public opinion.
“Greenpeace and its friends have a lot of influence and yet are accountable to no one for their crimes of trying to prevent the cure for the biggest killer of children today. The anti-GMO movement is largely responsible for the ridiculous regulatory bureaucracy to get approval for any GM crop. This is the main cause of delay,” Moore told NutraIngredients.
Referencing its German branch, Moore said: “Greenpeace Germany has more than €60m per year in income. There are only 38 members of Greenpeace Germany, all of whom are secret except for the directors. They answer only to themselves. They have become a self-perpetuating elitist clique.”
Greenpeace has dismissed the protests saying the half-hour affair consisted of only Moore, three friends and a photographer. Greenpeace campaigner, Graham Thompson, told NutraIngredients that this: “Probably happens about once a year, on a wide variety of issues where someone thinks they can influence companies or governments indirectly by influencing us. We support everyone’s right to protest and have their views heard.”
Trials of the rice are currently being conducted in the Philippines and Bangladesh. Last August, 400 protesters uprooted and destroyed crops at one of the Filipino Department of Agriculture’s five trial fields at a gated research complex in Camarines Sur province.
Moore said he has been a supporter of golden rice since its genesis in 1999, using it as an example of his misgivings with Greenpeace and the anti-GMO movement in many of his speeches and writing.
However he said it was the Philippine incident– for which he sees Greenpeace as directly or indirectly responsible – that led him to “vow to take direct action to push back against their criminal activity”.
“Now I will campaign until golden rice is approved, and after that I will work to help spread the word of its importance,” he added.
Responding to the accusation, Greenpeace’s Thompson said it took no part in the action and had no knowledge of it. “Filipino farmers claimed responsibility for pulling up a ‘golden’ rice trial in the Philippines,” he said.
Adrian Dubock, executive secretary of the golden rice advocate Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, said the incident would not have much impact on the project's progress providing it is not repeated. Dubock told NutraIngredients: “The protesters were not farmers but rent a crowd urban based activists. The Philippine authorities will prosecute the perpetrators.”
Greenpeace has said the golden rice project is an attempt at finding a poster boy for the GM cause and says it opposes all releases of GM technology into the environment. “GM ‘golden’ rice represents a propaganda campaign aiming to gain greater acceptance of corporate-owned GM products in the Global South,” Thompson said.
Speaking with sister site FoodNavigator-Asia, Dr Antonio Alfonso, leader of the Philippines research, said it is simply not true that that big corporations would hold more patents in golden rice technology. He said its financial backer Syngenta donated the research to The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board (GRHB) and does not hold rights to make money from it.
GRHB is an honorary body whose members include doctors, professors and governments as well as The Rockefeller Foundation, the private foundation that kick-started the research two decades ago.
In a report written by GRHM’s Dubock, reference was made to the reported statements of former lead anti-GMO campaigner for Friends of the Earth Jens Katzek. It is claimed Friends of the Earth colleagues said: “If we lose the Golden Rice battle, we lose the GMO war.”
Moore, who brands himself the “sensible environmentalist” said: “If Greenpeace admits that there is one good GM crop, then they would have to admit there might be other good GM crops and then they would be reduced to a rational discussion of the subject like the rest of us mere mortals.”
Greenpeace has accused Moore of selling out to start Greenspirit environmental consulting - which he left a year ago. Moore denies that this presents a conflict of interest and claims Greenpeace uses the words 'industry' and 'corporate' as if they are swear words.
He said he would have become a lawyer or business executive if he were “financially motivated”. He says his relationship with GRHM is "informal", having known Dr Ingo Potrykus - described as the "engine behind" GRHM and the golden rice project - for more than 10 years.
Dubock told us that while GRHM supports Moore's activities, there was no relationship between the two.