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107 Nobel Laureates: The New GMO Zealots?

Nobel laureates argue that since there has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from GMO crop consumption, why not take this boon forward

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

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Almost one-third of living Nobel Prize winners have signed an open letter challenging Greenpeace on its claims against 'Golden Rice'. Richard J. Roberts, who organized this letter called institutions against GMOs "cruel and heartless" and accused them of creating "crime against humanity."

The controversy on the GMO
Recently, a controversy broke out when 100 Nobel laureates urged Greenpeace to re-examine its claim on Golden Rice. Extending support to genetically modified products through a petition, they want Greenpeace to abandon their campaign against 'Golden Rice' in particular.

The Nobel Laureates argue that genetically engineered food is the potential answer for the world hunger issue. However, the consumer community, farmers and activists do not agree that GMO's are fit for human consumption on a long term basis. In this war of arguments, neither of the parties have a definite evidence about whether GMO is nutritious or hazardous.

The Issue-dug Deeper
Industrial farming and agriculture has become a big gamble, when it comes to feeding our growing populations and protecting the ecological balance at the same time.

The most prominent problem which the world is going through, is that a quarter of a billion preschool-age children are suffering from vitamin A deficiency. Every year, 250,000 to 500,000 of these kids go blind. The numbers are huge and increasing. Within a year, half of the blinded children die. Much of this affliction is in Southeast Asia, where people rely mostly on rice for nutrition. But Rice lacks enough beta carotene-the compound which produces vitamin A.

The need arose not only from these cases of vitamin deficiency but also from the large world population dying of hunger and malnutrition. The United Nations Food & Agriculture Program noted that the global requirement for food and fiber, would need to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing global population.

To which the scientific agencies, tried to provide an answer in the form of biotechnologically modified food. Those foods which were declared as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production.

Hence, the Nobel laureates argue that, since there has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from GMO's crop consumption and as their environmental impacts have also been said to be less damaging to the environment. Why not take this boon forward to a global biodiversity. They see it as a sustainable solution.

Nonetheless, they have also accused organizations like Greenpeace which have been opposing modern plant breeding of denying facts and misrepresenting the risks, benefits and impacts.

The Other Side Of The Argument
The central argument of the anti-GMO activists is that the concept of prudence, which means that even if GE crops might have vitamins or proteins, or even if they a good solution for malnutrition, but one cannot defend toxic drugs, genes and pesticides. They believe that genetic engineering is chaotic and unpredictable for sustaining mankind for several years.

In fact, they are also not happy with the way trials for GMO crops have been conducted. Kids have been put under testing instead of animal trial. Anti- GMO activists are concerned about the effects, illnesses that might develop in the long-term, when the consumption of these crops will become irreversible.

Another valid concern about GE agriculture is the process of creating herbicides, monocultures and patents. The kind of labelling that is being done at present, it doesn't make any sense to a layman. It's big, it's technical. Shopping GMO crops is not as easy as it looks. It is not the same as buying groceries from any departmental store.

Moreover, despite the big triumphs of scientist over certain crops like Papaya, BT Cotton, not many have faith in this radically new knowledge of growing high yielding variety of crops. It is also said that agro-chemical companies and their allies spend tens of millions of dollars to spread misleading messages about the safe processing and the necessity of chemical-intensive agriculture but it remains a system that bolsters profits from costly inputs-including pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones and genetically engineered seeds.

The Silent Revolution

While the GM and non-GM debate has been using up most of the political oxygen, a silent revolution has making huge strides on the ground for the world's farmers without the novel risks of GM.

Especially, in Phillipines where this rice is a part of the staple diet. Greenpeace has been fighting to block field trails of Golden Rice, the biggest concern being that this rice which is engineered to overproduce beta carotene, has never been tested on animals. And that it can be toxic and cause birth defects. After the scare talk about Beta Carotene, supporters of Golden Rice were baffled. It is a legitimate health concern all over the world.

However, up to this point, our concerns stories of papaya, Bt and Golden Rice have been unfounded. Hundreds of studies have been done and tons of GE food have been eaten but of course it cannot satisfy those who are just waiting for the doomsday making a hullabaloo out of something or the other.

Greenpeace and other organizations however say that, corporations are using the strain to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops. Their long standing position is to oppose all patents on plants or animals or their genes and that "life is not an industrial commodity".

Previously, the environmental NGOs had said Golden Rice was "environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health, and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security".

The NGO also maintains that genetically modified organisms should be held back "since there is not an adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health".

The debate seems to be ongoing and not reach a point of conclusion anytime soon. Still the reasons to hold such a strong petitioning and to launch a big recommendation campaign are under speculation. It needs to be pondered on why Greenpeace is being targeted now, when it has been repeating its belief for almost two decades now.


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Nobel Laureates greenpeace agriculture farming