Anti-Biotech Opposition to Golden Rice Has Cost 1.4 Million 'Life Years' in India Alone. Will Anyone Be Held Accountable?


credit: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) / Foter / CC BY

Opposition to biotech crops, and the subsequent failure to adopt safe, healthy genetically modified crop variants, is causing mass human suffering all over the world.

The most obvious example of this is Golden Rice, which has been available since the early part of the last decade, but is not in regular use in any country. Golden Rice is a genetically altered rice strain built to address Vitamin A deficiency, which affects about 10 percent of the 3 billion people for whom rice is a staple food. That deficiency causes blindness in between 250,000 and 500,000 children each year, half of whom die within 12 months, according to the World Health Organization.

Golden Rice is cost effective and perfectly safe. But environmentalist groups like Greenpeace continue to oppose it. Over the years since its development, radical anti-biotech activists have waged violent crop-burning campaigns intended to wipe it out. Back in 2000, the threat was so fierce that the strain was being stored in a grenade-proof greenhouse for protection.

The sheer physical misery—misery that could have and should have been prevented—that has resulted from opposition to the rice has been immense, but also difficult to quantify. But this year, two agricultural economists attempted to estimate exactly how much it's cost, both in economic terms and in healthy lives lost. The results are pretty grim. 

"Results show the annual perceived costs have to be at least US$199 million per year approximately for the last decade to explain the delay in approval of the technology," writes Justus Wesseler of  Technische Universität München, Center of Life and Food Sciences in Freising Germany and David Zilberman of UC Berkeley. "This is an indicator of the economic power of the opposition towards Golden Rice resulting in about 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade in India."

What does the study's authors mean by "life years?" David Ropeik of Scientific American explains:

That odd sounding metric – not just lives but 'life years' – accounts not only for those who died, but also for the blindness and other health disabilities that Vitamin A deficiency causes. The majority of those who went blind or died because they did not have access to Golden Rice were children.

Ropeik argues that at this point we need to do more than tally the suffering. We need to assign blame, and hold those who have opposed Golden Rice so adamantly, for so long, on such flimsy justifications, accountable:

These are real deaths, real disability, real suffering, not the phantom fears about the human health effects of Golden Rice thrown around by opponents, none of which have held up to objective scientific scrutiny. It is absolutely fair to charge that opposition to this particular application of genetically modified food has contributed to the deaths of and injuries to millions of people. The opponents of Golden Rice who have caused this harm should be held accountable.

That includes Greenpeace, which in its values statement promises, "we are committed to nonviolence." Only their non-violent opposition to Golden Rice contributes directly to real human death and suffering. It includes the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, which claims the credibility of scientific expertise, and then denies or distorts scientific evidence in order to oppose GMOs. It includes the U.S. Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club and several environmental groups who deny and distort the scientific evidence on GM foods every bit as much as they complain the deniers of climate change science do. It includes the Non-GMO Project, started by natural food retailers who oppose a technology that just happens to threaten their profits.

Reason's Ron Bailey has been writing about the "homicidal activism" of anti-biotech fanatics for years.  

(Link via CEI's Greg Conko.)

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  1. This reminds me, where the hell is Ron Bailey?

    I haven’t seen any posts from him in a while.

    1. I dunno. Still on the cruise?

    2. T: I am away working on a new book. Working title: The End of Doom. Will be back in May.

      1. Thanks for the update Ron!

        Look forward to checking out the book. Hope you give Ridley an optimistic run for his money.

  2. Nothing says nonviolent like having the state jail people who are doing this that you don’t approve of.

    1. crop burnings are also the pinnacle of non-violent behavior.

  3. As much as I dislike anti-biotech douchebags, I don’t think there is ever a case to be made based on lost potential gains. There are myriad factors entering into Vitamin A deficiencies in the developing world. And even though these luddite assholes are preventing a cheap, easy, and safe solution to that problem, I have a hard time buying into the idea that they should be held responsible for those peoples’ suffering.

    1. They should be held responsible in the court of public opinion. Their counterfactual knee-jerk reaction of ‘GMO is bads’ prevents ready alleviation of the problem in a significant number of those afflicted.

    2. I have mixed feelings. When a third world shithold tears itself apart in a civil war and the West “does nothing”, we are often blamed for the suffering. See: Sudan.

      Hell, I remember how the U.S. was blamed for Rwanda. However, the tide is turning and now that a new guy is in charge, apparently it’s no longer our fault when the third world tears itself apart.

      So hard to keep up.

      That being said, it would just be nice if GreenPeace would fucking stop it with the anti-science bullshit.

  4. I’m really uninformed on this topic. What exactly do think is bad about GMOs?

    1. They kill Monarch butterflies, or something.

  5. No. No one will be held responsible because killing brown people for their own good and with the best intentions is what rich, western whites do.

  6. Are you sure you want to throw in with this nutbag?

    When advocates get so passionate in the fight for their values that they potentially impose harm on others, it puts us all at risk, and we have the right to call attention to those potential harms and hold those advocates accountable. And this is much broader than just GMOs:

    Delay on dealing with climate change exposes us all to much greater risk. We should hold responsible those whose ideology-driven denial of climate change is responsible for some of that risk.

    Resistance to anything to make it harder for bad guys to get guns puts us all at risk. Society should hold responsible the paranoid arch-conservatism that has created resistance to any prudent gun control and contributed to that risk.

    1. Is that the shitbag who claims that dissent over AGW should be criminalized?

      1. You’d have to get a program to list all the villains there. Suzuki, McKibble, Brin, etc. all want to hold kangaroo courts for climate orthodoxy transgressors.

  7. Let’s be clear about this: This guy wants to codify the collectivization of guilt for perceived harm. That’s not something that anyone with a working brain should want to be associated with.

    Call these fuckers out for their actions, go nuts, but any rational person should draw the line at taking legal action against people or organizations, because they believe differently than you do. That’s just a fascist little fuck at work.

    1. ^^This. It is insane to try to charge someone with a crime for having a buggy opinion, even if the expression of same led to the deaths of millions.

      This article is complete claptrap.

      1. It is absolutely fair to charge that opposition to this particular application of genetically modified food has contributed to the deaths of and injuries to millions of people. The opponents of Golden Rice who have caused this harm should be held accountable.

        There was nothing about bringing legal charges against anyone. Saying that the anti-GMO luddites have “caused” deaths is factually incorrect, but there’s nothing wrong with saying that they’ve contributed to death and blindness and should be shamed and ostracized for doing incredible harm and retarding the development of anti-poverty solutions.

  8. Norman Borlaug said something about the frustration of listening to policy ideas from people from developed countries who’d never gone to bed hungry.

    Would it make me an awful person to wish that those who oppose golden rice should go blind themselves ?

    1. I was trying to figure out what that had to do with Yalta, but the link in the lyric notes was handy:

      Such a hero FDR was, with his gold-stealing, Japanese-interning, Jew-immigration-denying ways.

      1. Wrong reply.

  9. I do not trust large corporations. Their main concern is not the health of their fellow humans, it is bottom line profits, pure and simple. Genetically engineering foods, such as rice, is a gamble. Certain corporate scientists think that they can change, beneficially, what nature has evolved over millions of years. Organisms, like rice are extremely complex. What safety studies have been done, animal models, over the lifetime of the tested animals, by non-corporate, investigators?

    1. I do not trust Greenpeace and other eco-terrorist organizations, so we balance each other out. No one is forcing you to buy or eat the rice. The fact that all of the science says it’s not only safe but medically effective is all that matters, your irrational distrust aside.

      Oh, and as a reminder, vitamin A deficiency is natural; botulism is natural; cyanide is natural; small pox is natural; polio is natural. Where do you get this silly idea that just because something is natural it’s good for you?

    2. Corporations exist to make money. To make money they need to sell what they make. You don’t make money by killing your customers.

      Why is that so hard to grasp?

  10. The man behind this Golden Rice is from Monsanto. Now how safe do some of you think it is?! I would never eat it!

    1. Hey look everybody, a moron!

    2. Monsanto is the name of company not a magic spell that inflicts harm upon whoever utters it’s name.

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