GM Crops

Greenpeace is Wrong; Golden Rice is a Humanitarian Project: Patrick Moore

Dr Patrick Moore co-founder of Greenpeace, the multinational environmental NGO, and now its fierce critic, was in New Delhi for his campaign ‘Allow Golden Rice Now.’ Greenpeace is opposed to golden rice because it has been developed through genetic medication by incorporating a gene from maize that produces beta-carotene which is a cure for Vitamin A deficiency. The World Health Organization estimates that between a quarter and half a million go blind every year because of Vitamin A deficiency and that about two million people die because of impaired immunity attributed to the vitamin’s deficiency. Golden rice was developed in 1999 by Prof Peter Beyer of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Dr Ingo Potrykus of the University of Freiburg. Germany. Other scientists created an even better strain a few years later. But countries are wary of allowing commercial cultivation of the rice because of the scare campaign mounted by environmentalists and Leftists. Vivian Fernandes caught up with Dr Moore, at his hotel in Paharganj, a backpackers’ haunt in the capital for this interview.

Patrick, what is the reason there is so much opposition to genetically-modified crops in Europe?

I think the reason for opposition is fear and campaigns of misinformation, telling people there is something dangerous about this new technology which is actually one of the most important advances in agriculture in all ten thousand years of the history.

In the US, the Christian Right is very strong and it is anti-science. In Europe, this is not the case.  Europeans are much less reIligious. It is the home of the Enlightenment. Why is it that NGOs like Greenpeace thrive in Europe, and are at the forefront of the anti-GM movement?

I think to some extent it is just intellectually lazy. The United States and North America in general are more acceptable of new technology and new ideas. I think Europe has become kind of like a museum, where people’s minds are in the past. It is hard to understand. Greenpeace and these anti-GM groups have been very effective in bringing fear about this new technology.

Why is Greenpeace anti-GM?

The reason I quit Greenpeace was because I saw them going in these directions even before GM was invented. I left Greenpeace ten years before the first GM. I do believe they are using this only for fund-raising and to bring fear into people to give them money. I don’t mind so much that Greenpeace is opposed to this GM or that GM but golden rice is different. It is the first transgenic to address human nutrition and has a humanitarian purpose. They should not oppose this because two million children are drying unnecessarily, needlessly, every year as their parents watch helplessly as they are so poor they cannot afford a balanced diet. But if they had beta-carotene in their rice they will live. That is why scientists did it in the first place to address this humanitarian tragedy.

One of the fears in this country, even by people who support GM, is that the technology is owned by large corporations. It is not the technology but untrammelled corporate power that they fear?

Well, if you fear the power of corporations you might as well go to North Korea I think. The fact is large corporations are making our cars. Is everybody afraid of Tata? Is everybody afraid of all the big corporations in India? I think not. We are talking about seed companies. We are not talking about manufacturers of weapons or drugs cartels. We are talking about seed companies that are making better seeds that farmers want. So I do not see how you should be afraid of seed companies. They are not actually that large. Wal-Mart (2014 revenue 476.29 bn) is much bigger. Tata (group, 2013-14 revenue $98.34 bn) is much bigger. Monsanto is a small company compared to the big companies (2014 revenue $15.85 bn).  Apple is the biggest company in the world (2104 revenue $182.79 bn) and everybody loves Apple. So it is a little bit too selective that people are saying about big companies.

Can’t you achieve the same results as golden rice by using conventional plant breeding technologies?

Golden Rice. Photo courtesy: IRRI

Golden Rice. Photo
courtesy: IRRI

Let us talk about golden rice. Its inventors, Prof Peter Beyer and Dr Ingo Potrykus, tried for four years to find a conventional way to put beta-carotene into the grain of rice and they found no way it was possible. That’s the only reason they used transgenics.

Why have you mounted this campaign?

Because Vitamin A deficiency kills more children than any other thing in the world, more than malaria more than tuberculosis and also more people go blind from Vitamin A deficiency than any other cause. So one of the most important humanitarian tasks in the world is to fix Vitamin A deficiency and golden rice is the cure. If golden rice was the medicine that could cure malaria or cancer it would have been approved long ago. But because it is a GMO it is opposed by these people because they are afraid to admit there might be one good GMO.  May be there are some bad GMOs; I am not saying there are not. But this is one good GMO which could save a lot of children from suffering and death.

Has this rice been endorsed by the scientific community?

The entire scientific community,not only endorses golden rice but says GM is safe. You go to the American Medical Association, the Royal Society of England and all down the list, all of the credible health, nutrition and science organisations, say that it is safe. There may be other reasons to be against it but on safety there is no reason.

Why did you quit Greenpeace after founding it?

I quit Greenpeace for a number of reasons. One is because it lost its humanitarian perspective. We started Greenpeace to save the world from nuclear war. We cared about people and civilisation. Today Greenpeace looks at people as enemies of the earth. Like we are separate from nature, when in fact, we are part of nature and come from nature.

Why have Leftists made common cause with environmentalists?

One of the reasons I left Greenpeace is because it was hijacked by the extreme political left. I believe

A Greenpeace poster demonizing golden rice

A Greenpeace poster demonizing golden rice

environmentalism should be right down the middle politically; borrow the best from each side – regulation from the left, free market form the right. Put those two together and you have a successful society.

Why has the extreme left hijacked environmentalism?

For power and for money.

Do you mean that Greenpeace is a business?

Greenpeace is a fundraising business making three hundred million dollars a year from scaring people into thinking they are all going to die from climate change, from poison and from GMos. It is an extremist business which is raising money from people who believe this.

Do corporations have an interest in the commercialization of golden rice?

No, in the case of golden rice because it is a humanitarian project all the royalties have been given away. There will be no royalty to pay so the rice is the same price as normal rice only it will have beta carotene to cure Vitamin A deficiency.

No royalties to pay anywhere in the world?

In the industrialized countries if somebody decides to grow golden rice they will pay a royalty there. But there is no need for golden rice in industrialized societies because there is no deficiency of Vitamin A.  Everyone is wealthy enough to have a balanced diet. (Syngenta’s spokesperson said it has ‘a significant interest in seeing the humanitarian benefits from the technology become reality but has no commercial interest in golden rice whatsoever.’- ed)

Do you think you will succeed in convincing people about GMOs?

Ans: We are not trying to convince people about GMOs. We are trying to convince them about godden rice which happens to be a GMO. It is the only GMO which has a humanitarian purpose. The other GMOs are aimed at making it easier for farmers to grow their crops.

 Are you funded by MNC seed corporations?

No we are not. We are funded by philanthropists in Washington DC and British Columbia who are our friends and they are not in the seed business. We know we should not be involved with the seed busienss because of what people will say. Our money has come from Phil Harvey in Washington, from Anne Bridge in British Columbia, which is a pipeline company and has nothing to do with agriculture and Cary pinkowski, who is a gold trader giving us support. Rajiv Shroff (of United Phosphorus) has given us support here in India and he’s is not a seed company either (Advanta, a seed company is an associate of UPL- ed).

According to Moore the following institutions are supporting golden rice: The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board;  The International Rice Research Institute;  The Rockefeller Foundation;  Syngenta Foundation; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Philippine Rice Research institute;  Bangladesh Rice Research Institute;  Helen Keller International;  Biosafety Resources Network; Biotechnology Institute of the Philippines;  Seed Stories; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); US National Institutes of Health

A little more about Patrick Moore: Dr Patrick Moore was born in Winter Harbour in Vancouver Island, a village with no road. It is connected by boats and has about 30 people living there. While doing Ph.D in ecology at the University of British Columbia he became a radical environmentalist and joined a small group which became Greenpeace. He was among those who sailed across the ocean to stop the US from testing hydrogen bombs.  The group campaigned against French atomic testing in Bikini Atoll and lost a photographer when its boat, Rainbow Warrior, was bombed by French commandoes. Moore was involved in the campaign against whaling and the hunting of seals. In 1985 he quit Greenpeace, among other things, for its campaign to ban chlorine, which Moore considers a chemical useful for health and sanitation.  He decided to campaign for golden rice when he saw Greenpeace activists destroy field trials of the rice in the Philippines in August 2013.

(This interview was recorded on 17 March, 2015)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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