Golden rice, G.M.O.s
Golden Rice has been genetically engineered and has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency.

WASHINGTON — A letter signed by 109 Nobel laureates urges Greenpeace to abandon its campaign against bioengineered ingredients/genetically modified organisms, especially 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 G.M.O.s in general and Golden Rice in particular,” the letter said. “Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer, than those derived from any other method of production.

“There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment and a boon to global biodiversity.”

Golden Rice has been genetically engineered to produce and accumulate beta-carotene in the endosperm (the edible part of the grain). It has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency, which has the greatest impact on poor people in Africa and Southeast Asia, according to the letter. The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million people suffer from vitamin A deficiency, including 40% of the children under age 5 in the developing world, according to the letter, which added that based on UNICEF statistics, a total of 1 million to 2 million preventable deaths occur annually as a result of vitamin A deficiency.

The letter targeted Greenpeace because it is a leader in the anti-G.M.O. movement, said Sir Richard J. Roberts, Ph.D., a Nobel laureate in medicine in 1993, during a June 30 press conference in Washington. If Greenpeace reverses its course on opposing G.M.O.s, other anti-G.M.O. groups may follow, he said.

Wilhelmina Pelegrina, a campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia in Manila, the Philippines, responded.

“Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered Golden Rice are false,” she said. “Golden Rice has failed as a solution and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research. As admitted by the International Rice Research Institute, it has not been proven to actually address vitamin A deficiency. So to be clear, we are talking about something that doesn’t even exist.

“Corporations are overhyping Golden Rice to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops. This costly experiment has failed to produce results for the last 20 years and diverted attention from methods that already work. Rather than invest in this overpriced public relations exercise, we need to address malnutrition through a more diverse diet, equitable access to food and eco-agriculture.”

Greenpeace promotes food supplements, food fortification and home gardening as other ways to combat vitamin A deficiencies. The organization also claims G.M.O. use has increased chemical use in agriculture. Pesticide use has increased by 404 million lbs since genetically engineered crops were introduced in 1996, according to Greenpeace.

The Nobel laureates who signed the letter included people recognized for their work in physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, literature and peace. Dr. Roberts, the chief scientific officer for New England Biolabs, Inc., Ipswich, Mass., said no plant biologists signed the letter. He said anti-G.M.O. groups have intimidated plant biologists and added several plant biologists declined to sign the letter because they did not want any industry connections to “taint” the letter.

More than 2,100 people from the plant science community have signed another letter titled “Scientists in Support of GMO Technology for Crop Improvement.” It recognizes genetic modification as a long-standing method used by breeders and plant scientists to improve agricultural products.

The letter signed by the Nobel laureates may be found at link.