Greenpeace's war on world health

Why are groups like Greenpeace so dedicated to undermining life-saving technologies?

Why is Greenpeace happy to see the poor starve?
Vincent Carroll
On 30 January 2013 09:34

If there's anything more annoying than a huckster, it's a self-righteous huckster working for a group that campaigns to keep impoverished kids from getting the nutrition they need.

Hardly a week goes by when I am not accosted on Denver's downtown mall by a flack for Greenpeace wondering whether I wish to sign up as an ally. I politely shake my head and move on. But last week, one of the Greenpeace disciples got snippy with me, questioning my commitment to humanity.

My commitment? Here's a fellow who works for a group dedicated to undermining one of the world's life-saving technologies, namely genetically modified (GM) crops, thus sentencing millions to wretched health — or worse.

Last year, for example, Greenpeace helped whip up panic over a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that 24 Chinese children had been fed genetically improved rice in research involving Tufts University and Chinese scientists. Several Chinese officials were sacked.

And yet the larger story is that the study confirmed that so-called Golden Rice provides the Vitamin A that normal rice lacks and which so many undernourished people around the world need. Resistance to the rice, according to co-inventor Ingo Potrykus, has led to "loss of numerous lives, mostly children and women."

Two summers ago, in another reactionary feat, Greenpeace zealots scaled a fence and used weed trimmers to destroy an experimental wheat crop in Australia.

Fortunately, they didn't quite complete the job. As author Mark Lynas explained in a lecture at Oxford University this month, "What few people have since heard is that one of the other trials being undertaken, which Greenpeace activists with their trimmers luckily did not manage to destroy, accidentally found a wheat yield increase of an extraordinary 30 percent. Just think. This knowledge might never have been produced at all, if Greenpeace had succeeded in destroying this innovation."

Lynas himself was on Greenpeace's side not so long ago, advocating and participating in militant actions against genetically modified test crops. But he has spent the past few years mastering the scientific literature, prompting an extraordinary admission in his speech.

"I want to start with some apologies," Lynas said. "For the record, here and upfront, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid-nineties, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment... I could not have chosen a more counterproductive path. I now regret it completely."

Lynas went on to recount the tragic success of this "anti-science movement." Thanks to fears promoted by the likes of Greenpeace, he noted, not only Europe but also much of Asia and Africa have blindly rejected many GM crops. "In Kenya, if you develop a GM crop which has better nutrition or a higher yield to help poorer farmers, then you will go to jail for 10 years," Lynas lamented.

Without the 20th century's Green Revolution, tens of millions of people would have starved to death. And despite a stunning drop in fertility rates in most countries, world population is likely to rise for at least several more decades. That means, as geneticist Pamela Ronald of the University of California at Davis explained in the journal Genetics, "Millions of lives depend upon the extent to which crop genetic improvement can keep pace with the growing global population, changing climate, and shrinking environmental resources."

Meanwhile, Ronald notes, "Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union's scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops..."

In short, those crops are "no different in terms of unintended consequences to human health and the environment" than conventionally bred plants.

But don't tell our friends on the mall. Fighting science is what they do best.

Vincent Carroll is a columnist at the Denver Post where this article was originally published. Follow him on Twitter @vcarrollDP

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