Golden Rice

Anti-Biotech Activists Kill and Blind More Kids


Vitamin A Deficiency
University of Iowa

Earlier this month, my colleague Katherine Mangu-Ward reported on a group of Filipino farmers, goaded by disinformation promoted by anti-biotech activist groups like Greenpeace, who invaded and destroyed crop fields at the International Rice Research Institute where researchers were growing Golden Rice. That biotech rice variety has been enhanced to produce beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. As Mangu-Ward noted:

The rice, which was just weeks away from being harvested, was part of the required trials to get the rice approved for distribution in a country where approximately 1.7 million kids below the age of 5 are deficient in Vitamin A, and therefore more susceptible to infection and blindness.

The activist campaign against crop biotechnology is every bit as scientifically ignorant as the attacks on polio vaccination in benighted places like Nigeria, Sudan, and Pakistan. On Sunday, a New York Times feature article, "Golden Rice: A Life Saver?," reported that this sorry episode of what amounts to anti-scientific terrorism has aroused some push-back from scientists:

The destruction of the field trial, and the reasons given for it, touched a nerve among scientists around the world, spurring them to counter assertions of the technology's health and environmental risks. On a petition supporting Golden Rice circulated among scientists and signed by several thousand, many vented a simmering frustration with activist organizations like Greenpeace, which they see as playing on misplaced fears of genetic engineering in both the developing and the developed worlds. Some took to other channels to convey to American foodies and Filipino farmers alike the broad scientific consensus that G.M.O.'s are not intrinsically more risky than other crops and can be reliably tested. 

At stake, they say, is not just the future of biofortified rice but also a rational means to evaluate a technology whose potential to improve nutrition in developing countries, and developed ones, may otherwise go unrealized.

"There's so much misinformation floating around about G.M.O.'s that is taken as fact by people," said Michael D. Purugganan, a professor of genomics and biology and the dean for science at New York University, who sought to calm health-risk concerns in a primer on GMA News Online, a media outlet in the Philippines: "The genes they inserted to make the vitamin are not some weird manufactured material," he wrote, "but are also found in squash, carrots and melons." …

"It is long past time for scientists to stand up and shout, 'No more lies — no more fear-mongering,' " said Nina V. Fedoroff, a professor at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia and a former science adviser to the American secretary of state, who helped spearhead the petition. "We're talking about saving millions of lives here."

It's also way past time for the editors of the New York Times to stop publishing the profoundly ignorant anti-biotech screeds penned by likes of Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. These ideologues promote every one of the "Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops."