Greenpeace’s failure on Golden Rice

The author says Greenpeace has played a large role in delaying the production of Golden Rice, a genetically modified variety that promises to alleviate vitamin A deficiencies in children in many parts of the world. | Reuters/Erik De Castro photo

In late July 2021, the Philippines became the first country on the planet to approve Golden Rice for production and human consumption.

Twenty years ago when the Golden Rice technology was licensed to Syngenta, the approval for production and consumption was expected to occur within a handful of years. It was widely thought that Golden Rice would be providing humans with increased vitamin A by 2005. Regrettably, the 16 years of delays are based entirely on politics, and the leading environmental activist organization opposed to Golden Rice has been Greenpeace.

There is a great deal of misinformation about Golden Rice, including that the technology is owned by Monsanto, and groups like Greenpeace are not advocating with the knowledge that is truthful.

Let’s get one thing straight: Monsanto doesn’t, and never has, owned Golden Rice. Golden Rice has been developed by the International Rice Research Institute, an international and publicly funded research centre located in the Philippines.

More than 70 patents previously existed regarding aspects of Golden Rice technology, and IRRI, along with assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation, were able to negotiate free licensing for all of the patents.

The devastating reality of vitamin A deficiency is that globally, 124 million children are deficient, with up to two million children under the age of five dying annually from the lack of vitamin A.

According to Unicef, one in three children worldwide do not receive enough vitamin A, and vitamin A deficiency is the “leading cause of preventable childhood blindness and increases the risk of death from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea”.

The benefit of Golden Rice is in the increased vitamin A content. Since rice is a staple crop for many regions suffering from vitamin A deficiency, developing a vitamin A rich rice was a strategic choice for adoption, use, and production in these regions.

To date, 158 Nobel Laureates, as well as more than 13,000 scientists and individuals, have publicly called on Greenpeace to end its campaign against technologies capable of reducing the rate of childhood death in developing countries. It is simply unfathomable, not to mention unethical, that Greenpeace would be opposed to any technology capable of increasing vitamin A availability and reducing the rate of childhood death.

Initially, Greenpeace was an organization that supported many aspects of science but has since jettisoned all scientific basis for its advocacy, or more realistically, its propaganda campaigns.

It’s become evident that the deliberate spread of false information has become a successful business model. Numerous activist organizations have adopted this business model and knowingly disseminate information that is false to scare the public into donating money to fund the “fight” against these so-called dangerous technologies.

Greenpeace has transitioned from an organization that was concerned about the environment to one that now fights against improved food security and reduced childhood blindness.

Many people who have previously donated money to Greenpeace are questioning whether Greenpeace represents their views in regard to its unethical stance on Golden Rice. I’ve heard from many current Greenpeace supporters who have indicated they will no longer donate to the organization.

I encourage any individual who donates to Greenpeace and is concerned about the lack of ethics demonstrated by the organization to seek alternative organizations to donate to.

Alternatively, supporting organizations involved in ensuring that Golden Rice is readily available for farmers, their families and consumers would be an excellent cause to support.

Stuart Smyth is an associate professor in the University of Saskatchewan’s agricultural and resource economics department. He holds the Agri-Food Innovation and Sustainability Enhancement Chair. This article first appeared on the SAIFood website. It has been edited for length.

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