For decades, the environmental activist group Greenpeace has been among the most vocal, and oftentimes vicious, opponents of biotechnology and genetically engineered crops. The group has lobbied for bans on GE crops and gone as far as destroying field tests in Asia, Australia, Europe, and elsewhere.
In 2003, environmental activists in the Philippines collaborating with Greenpeace destroyed a field trial of Golden Rice being conducted by the World Bank-sponsored International Rice Research Institute. Golden Rice is a humanitarian project—the grains engineered to produce beta carotene to provide a needed Vitamin supplement for poor rice-growing farmers in less developed countries. Activists even tried to convince Filipino farmers that walking through a field of genetically engineered corn could turn farmers gay.
Despite the considered opinion of dozens of scientific bodies from all around the world—ranging from the U.S. National Academies of Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.K.’s Royal Society, and the French Academy of Science—that genetically engineered crops now on the market are safe for consumers and the environment, Greenpeace has been adamant that their cultivation is “a giant genetic experiment.”
Although the organization has been roundly criticized by scientists for its anti-technology stance, a group of over 100 Nobel Prize winning scientists announced today that they have signed an open letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition and obstruction of GE crops, and especially of Golden Rice.
“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,” the letter says.
“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.”
The letter, which now has 107 signatures, was coordinated by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and co-winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology. Other noteworthy signers include David Baltimore, Paul Berg, Paul Boyer, Steven Chu, Roger Kornberg, Kary Mullis, Stanley Prusiner, Phil Sharp, Harold Varmus, and James Watson.
Unfortunately, even in countries like the United States, where genetically engineered crops are increasingly common, regulatory hurdles that treat the technology as uniquely risky have made research and development prohibitively expensive for all but a handful of large, multinational seed companies. We see a lot of GE corn, soy, and cotton, but very few fruit and vegetable crops, and almost none produced by small biotech firms, charitable research foundations, or public sector breeders. It’s time for the U.S. to reform its regulation of GE crops as well.