It was 43 years ago when I boarded an old fishing boat named the Phyllis Cormack in Vancouver on the first Greenpeace campaign to stop nuclear testing in Alaska. I never dreamed that 43 years later Greenpeace would be arriving in Vancouver on a $32-million ship, and that this time I would be going down to protest against them.
I’m still proud of the work Greenpeace did during the 15 years I was in the leadership. I left because they had drifted from a humanitarian effort to save civilization from all-out nuclear war to an organization that sees humans as the enemies of the earth. How else could they justify their opposition to Golden Rice?
Two humanitarian scientists, Dr. Ingo Potrykus and Prof. Peter Beyer, used their knowledge of genetics to create Golden Rice, a variety of rice that contains beta carotene, the essential nutrient that we make into vitamin A. They were aware that two million people, mostly young children, die each year from vitamin A deficiency. Most of them live in urban slums in Asia and Africa and eat little more than a cup of rice each day. Conventional rice contains no beta carotene, resulting in 250 million preschool children who have chronic vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is necessary for eyesight and the immune system. As many as 500,000 children go blind each year, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind, according to the World Health Organization.
Since Golden Rice was first announced in 2000, Greenpeace has made a concerted effort to block its introduction. They have waged a campaign of misinformation, trashed the scientists who are working to bring Golden Rice to the people who need it, and supported the violent destruction of Golden Rice field trials at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.
How does Greenpeace justify this heartless behavior? First they claim there may be “unforeseen” consequences for human health and the environment. Yet they are not able to specify a single health risk with Golden Rice. That’s because the only difference between white rice and Golden Rice is the beta carotene, an essential nutrient that is necessary for good health. As for environmental risks Greenpeace says they are concerned that Golden Rice may cross with other rice plants. There is no imaginable way this could cause damage and could only make rice more nutritious. And to suggest that the threat of rice interbreeding is more important than two million deaths every year is pathetic.
Second, they say that Golden Rice will not solve the problem and that children should eat leafy vegetables and take vitamin A pills. But the very reason they suffer from malnutrition is that they can’t afford pills and they have no place in their slums to grow vegetables. Golden Rice is like a vitamin pill in a grain of rice.
Third, they claim that Golden Rice may not be effective in delivering the vitamin A to children. Yet they know Dr. Gwangwen Tang and her colleagues at Tufts University and the Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences in China have already proven that Golden Rice is effective. After conducting nutritional trials with animals and then adults in the United States, 23 Chinese children were fed one meal of Golden Rice and tested to see if they had absorbed the beta carotene. The results were published in 2012 in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and demonstrate conclusively that Golden Rice is effective.
The real reason Greenpeace is opposed to Golden Rice is because it is generically modified and they can’t seem to imagine that even one beneficial crop might result from this technique. They are willing to put their zero-tolerance ideology ahead of a critical humanitarian mission. Every major science and health organization supports Golden Rice.
Last week we launched the Allow Golden Rice Now! campaign with a demonstration at the Greenpeace Canada office in Toronto. We are not asking Greenpeace to give up their general dislike of genetically modified foods. We are only demanding that they make an exception to their policy, on humanitarian grounds, for Golden Rice.
Dr. Patrick Moore was a co-founder of Greenpeace and helped lead the organization for 15 years. He is now an independent ecologist and environmentalist working from Vancouver, Canada.