Commentary: GM crop destruction globally criticized

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Destroying a field trial of genetically modified rice in the Philippines may be the anti-GM crowd’s undoing. Plant scientists, academics and other crop biotechnology supporters all over the world have condemned the attack, which took place Aug. 8 in a field of Golden Rice.

Golden Rice is genetically altered to produce vitamin A and is considered a humanitarian outlet for crop biotechnology to help underdeveloped countries fight vitamin A deficiency.

After many spoke out against the destruction of the field, Channapatna Prakash of Tuskegee University in Alabama, started an online petition to show lawmakers  and policy makers the importance of continuing plant research into genetically modified crops. He aims to collect 5,000 signatures. As of Aug. 18, he had collected 3,000 signatures already.

In addition, Prakash also submitted an open letter stressing the need for biotech research and condemned the recent attack.

“Research on Golden Rice is a critical resource in fighting the devastating consequences of widespread vitamin A deficiency in developing nations,” he wrote.

“Not a single one of the many claims of negative health or environmental effects uniquely made against GM crops has withstood scientific scrutiny.

“It is an unconscionable criminal act to destroy a field trial conducted in accordance to international safety norms.”

People signing the petition included a University of Canberra toxicology expert, former anti-GM activist Mark Lynas, a University of Georgia crop science professor, and others. In an article in New Scientist, even Greenpeace described the Golden Rice vandalism as “stupid.”

Although Greenpeace’s Philippines based program manager said not enough safety testing was don on any GM crops, she did condemn the activists who destroyed the Golden Rice.

The problem with groups and individuals who destroy research plots is that it shows their unwillingness to let science gain the answers we all want about these GM crops. Simply destroying crops leaves no recourse. The data that could be collected is gone. All of the time and care scientists spent developing the trials and caring for the plants and the research that was done to develop the Golden Rice is dismissed by the actions of a few people when they choose to destroy field trials.

In the end all us are failed by the actions of a few. If science didn’t test hypotheses and gather evidence, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy many of the advantages we take for granted in the First World, such as antibiotics, clean water, abundant food, and telecommunications, etc.

But it seems with this recent attack, the world’s scientists, academics and biotech supporters are shouting, “enough!” It’s good to see these folks doing something to gain awareness for research and to show that destroying crops is criminal. Open dialogue is much more important with biotechnology now more than ever. Let’s not shut down the discussion.

To sign the petition, click here.  

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August, 22, 2013 at 08:15 AM

I agree that resorting to vandalism is completely unnecessary. I find that talking to consumers is much more effective... 'Do you know you're eating GMOs, every day?" "GMOs? What are they? How come I wasn't told this?" And that's all it takes for them to start asking their own questions, and making their own decisions on what they prefer to be eating.

Robert Wager    
Canada  |  August, 25, 2013 at 07:04 PM

I am wondering if you tell people this quote from the WHO when you tell them "your facts" about GMO's "GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved."

Bob Phelps    
Melbourne  |  August, 22, 2013 at 11:40 PM

Leading research group, HarvestPlus, is trying to ‘biofortify’ staple crops - bananas, cassava and sweet potato, as well as rice - but these foods are not a solution to the impacts of diets consisting of 90% of low-nutrient staples. As Harvestplus admits: "Fruits, vegetables and animal products are rich in micronutrients, but these foods are often not available to the poor. Their daily diet consists mostly of a few inexpensive staple foods, such as rice or cassava, which have few micronutrients. The consequences … can result in blindness, stunting, disease, and even death." So, malnutrition and starvation are problems of poverty, inequity and social injustice which cannot be solved by a technology that adds just one nutrient to an unbalanced diet. Like other polished rice, Golden Rice is also deficient in many other key micronutrients such as iron and zinc, essential for good health. A top-quality, balanced, diet of fresh fruits and vegetables is the way to solve nutrient deficiencies, starvation, malnutrition, ill-health and also reduce social justice challenges. Making a diverse diet of good food affordable and empowering people with their own seeds and land to grow their own would be a durable solution to nutrient deficiency. Golden Rice is not. In the interim, adding supplements in selected foods, like those in Australia - iodine in salt and folate in bread - could deliver the needed health benefits without consigning poor people perpetually to diets of low-nutrient staples. Golden Rice is a PR Trojan horse for the biotech industry's ambitions to dominate global food production, which cannot deliver on its glowing promises. It wastes scarce resources.

Robert Wager    
Canada  |  August, 25, 2013 at 07:07 PM

Why not both Bob. Surely giving farmers better seeds to grow to alleviate some of the most severe malnutrition problems while tackling the socio-politico-economic problems is a good thing

Steve Kass    
Madison, NJ  |  August, 27, 2013 at 12:56 PM

You write, "In an article in New Scientist, even Greenpeace described the Golden Rice vandalism as 'stupid.'" If Greenpeace said this, it might be news, but as far as I can tell, they did not. A Greenpeace spokesman was quoted in this recent post-vandalism article in New Scientist: destroy-golden-rice-gm-crop.html Nowhere does the spokesman criticize the vandalism, and the word "stupid" appears nowhere in his quotes (or the article, for that matter). Commentators have described the Greenpeace quotes in that article as "stupid," and I agree with them. The strong reaction among scientists and policymakers against the Philippine vandals is encouraging, but Greenpeace continues to stand firm on the other side. As far as I can tell, they did not take a step towards reasonableness, as you suggest here. If you have a source that confirms otherwise, please post it.

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