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In the letter, Greenpeace is accused of leading "the fact-challenged propaganda campaign against innovations in agricultural biotechnology." The NGO's opposition on a particularly controversial GMO crop, golden rice, was put on blast.
Golden Rice, compared to conventional rice, has been genetically engineered to produce and accumulate provitamin A (β-carotene) in the grain.Golden Rice Project
In a separate post Why Greenpeace is Wrong about GMOs and Golden Rice, the campaign accuses Greenpeace of spearheading "opposition to golden rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia."
The laureates' letter argues that scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have "repeatedly and consistently" found GMO crops as safe for humans and animals for consumption as well as for the safety of the environment.
Organizers of the campaign held a press conference this morning at the National Press Conference in Washington to defend the letter.
"We're scientists. We understand the logic of science. It's easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science," Richard Roberts, campaign organizer and the 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Phillip Sharp, told The Washington Post."Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause."
The golden rice project started roughly 20 years ago by German researchers. The GMO crop is developed to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene) and is touted by proponents as a solution to vitamin A deficiencies prevalent in developing countries. The deficiency increases risk for infection, diseases and blindness.
Greenpeace, however, has deemed the golden rice project as "environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health, and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security." Because of this stance, proponents of golden rice have long attacked the organization for being "anti-science" and prolonging the suffering of children with VAD.
In response to the letter, Wilhelmina Pelegrina, a campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia told The Post that the organization was not blocking golden rice, as the initiative "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," she continued. "Corporations are overhyping golden rice to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops. 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."
She argues that the "only guaranteed solution" to fix malnutrition is a diverse, healthy diet: "Providing people with real food based on ecological agriculture not only addresses malnutrition, but is also a scaleable solution to adapt to climate change."
Pelegrina said that Greenpeace has documented communities across the Philippines that continue to express concerns about using golden rice as a solution. In the video below produced by the organization in 2014, Filipino community members speak about solutions to nutrient deficiencies that are already available in their country.
The use of genetically modified technology is highly contentious in the Philippines. In 2013, a group of about 400 protesters, which included local farmers and members of two anti-GMO groups—the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bikol (KMB) and the Sararong Inisyatiba nin Kahinwanmaan sa Wasakon ang Agrokemikals na Lasong-GMO (Sikwal-GMO)—destroyed an 800 square meter trial plot of golden rice that was weeks away from being sent to the authorities for a safety evaluation. The protesters said they uprooted and trampled the rice plants because they wanted to protect the health of the people and their environment.
"Greenpeace Philippines is already working with NGO partners and farmers in the Philippines to boost climate resiliency," Pelegrina said. "There's a real chance here for governments and the philanthropic community to support these endeavours by investing in climate-resilient ecological agriculture and empowering farmers to access a balanced and nutritious diet, rather than pouring money down the drain for GE 'golden' rice."
Incidentally, a Washington University study published last month in the journal Agriculture & Human Values argues that the benefits of biotechnology, particularly golden rice, may be overhyped.
Washington University anthropologist Glenn Stone and Dominic Glover, a rice researcher at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, argue in their paper that GMO activists should not be blamed for the slow introduction of golden rice.
"The rice simply has not been successful in test plots of the rice breeding institutes in the Philippines, where the leading research is being done," Stone told the university publication. "It has not even been submitted for approval to the regulatory agency, the Philippine Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)."
Stone argues that the golden rice 2013 protest did not have any significant impact on the approval of the crop.
"Destroying test plots is a dubious way to express opposition, but this was only one small plot out of many plots in multiple locations over many years," he said. "Moreover, they have been calling golden rice critics 'murderers' for over a decade."
Although the Philippine Supreme Court recently issued a temporary suspension of GMO crop trials, which could definitely impact GMO crop development, Stone pointed out that "it's hard to blame the lack of success with golden rice on this recent action."
"Golden rice was a promising idea backed by good intentions," Stone said. "In contrast to anti-GMO activists, I argued that it deserved a chance to succeed. But if we are actually interested in the welfare of poor children—instead of just fighting over GMOs—then we have to make unbiased assessments of possible solutions. The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, Golden Rice is still years away from being ready for release."
Stone also said the Philippines has managed to slash the incidence of vitamin A deficiency by non-GMO methods.
Ken Roseboro, the editor and publisher of The Organic & Non-GMO Report and The Non-GMO Sourcebook, agrees that the failure of golden rice is not due to anti-GMO campaigns and that conventional agriculture presents viable solutions to VAD.
"As Glenn Davis Stone of Washington University recently documented, golden rice is failing, not because of activists attempts to block it, but to poor performance in field trials," Roseboro explained to EcoWatch via email. "Meanwhile, corn varieties with higher levels of vitamin A developed using non-GMO breeding methods are being grown in Africa and helping to address vitamin A deficiency there. But the press ignores this solution in favor of the failed techno-fix of golden rice."
He continued, "to say that GM crops are extensively tested is also not true since the FDA doesn't require safety testing of new GM crops and allows crop developers to voluntarily submit such safety data."
"What this letter shows is that even Nobel Prize scientists don't know, or don't want to know, since they take money from Monsanto and their minions, anything about the obvious human health, environmental and climate damage inflicted by GMOs, and the toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers that always accompany them," Cummins told EcoWatch via email. "This is a perfect example of why the global grassroots have lost all faith in the bought and sold scientific, corporate and political establishment."
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The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) invites citizens to assemble outside the Manhattan District court on Jan. 31 in an effort to present the message to family farmers that millions of Americans stand behind them as they seek their day in court. In the past two decades, Monsanto's seed monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90 percent of five major commodity crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets. This has resulted in onerous costs to farmers through high technology patent fees for seeds as well as burdensome litigation costs in defending themselves against lawsuits asserted by Monsanto.
In many cases organic and conventional farmers are forced to stop growing certain crops in order to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Between 1997 and April 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against American farmers in at least 27 different states, for alleged infringement of its transgenic seed patents and/or breach of its license to those patents, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. As a result of these aggressive lawsuits, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.
The lawsuit OSGATA et al vs. Monsanto was filed on behalf of 300,000 organic and non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) farmers and citizens to seek judicial relief in "protect[ing] themselves from ever being accused of infringing patents on transgenic (GMO) seed." The judge has requested and agreed to hear oral argument in order to make a decision of whether or not to allow the farmers' cases to move forward in the courts after Monsanto filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
"We are family farmers and we are headed to court in New York City on Jan. 31 to let the judge know that our survival as farmers depends on this lawsuit," said Jim Gerritsen, OSGATA president. "We're not asking Monsanto for one penny. We just want justice for our farmers and we want court protection from Monsanto."
"I don't think it's fair that Monsanto should be able to sue my family for patent infringement because their transgenic seed trespasses onto our farm and contaminates and ruins our organic crop," said Bryce Stephens, of Stephen's Land and Cattle Co. "We have had to abandon raising corn because we are afraid Monsanto wouldn't control their genetic pollution and then they would come after us for patent infringment. It's not right."
We are encouraging supporters of farmers' rights to grow food without fear and intimidation to assemble outside the courtroom in a peaceful manner to support the farmers in their claims, recognizing that these injustices affect us all and that this case is deserving of the court's time and attention on Jan. 31, 2012.
Due to limited space, only a small number of individuals will be able to enter the courtroom and listen to the proceedings. We respectfully ask that farmers and plaintiffs in the case be given priority to hear this case in person as each plaintiff will have traveled many miles and put a great deal on the line to be a part of this case.
In the spirit of peaceful assembly and respect for the courts, we request that you adhere to the following principles:
Principles for Citizens' Assembly
1. Assemble outside the court in a show of support for family farmers and their right to grow food without the threat of intimidation, harassment or loss of income.
2. Assemble peacefully to present a positive message that America's citizens stand behind family farmers and support their rights of legal protection under the Constitution.
3. Bring signs that portray messages of:
- The positive impacts of sustainable and organic agriculture
- Solutions to our current crisis in food, agriculture and society
- Support for farmers who seek justice in the courts
4. Be respectful of court security requests and follow them faithfully.
5. Maintain a respectful distance from the court entry on Pearl Street, making sure not to block access for foot traffic or vehicles.
6. Maintain a tone of respect for the court and the sanctity of our legal process as the judge hears the merits of this important case.
7. Cell phones, cameras and tape recorders are prohibited inside the courthouse. Those who enter the courthouse must conform to court security protocols.
8. No signs, t-shirts with slogans or other disruptions, visual or otherwise, are appropriate or allowed in the courtroom.
9. No chanting or loud noises allowed outside the courthouse as all must maintain their conduct in ways that are respectful to the judicial process and in accordance with the seriousness of the case.
10. Follow the instructions of designated assembly captains who will continue to update you as the events of the day unfold.
As advocates for farmers and supporters of a citizen-based democracy we greatly appreciate your support for family farmers and your agreement to act in accordance with these principles in order to guarantee farmers' rights to grow food without fear and intimidation.
Location to Hear Plaintiffs and Attorney Comment After Hearing
Once oral arguments are heard in the court, farmers, plaintiffs and Lead Attorney Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation will be available for comments to supporters and the media, at the Southwest Corner on 500 Pearl Street, at Pearl Street and Cardinal Hayes Place.
For those planning on assembling at 9 a.m., Pearl Street has been recommended to gather respectfully and overflow can gather at Foley Square.
- Find a link to a map of the location by clicking here.
- To RSVP to the event, click here.
- To sign a petition supporting farmers in the case against Monsanto, click here.
For more information, click here.