Greenpeace “Cries Wolf” about GM Food Ingredients

Posted by Josette Dunn on 1st November 2010

Many of us are familiar with Aesop’s story of the little boy who cried wolf. In the story a young shepherd entertains himself by watching the local villagers rush to assist him after his false warnings that a wolf is free in the flock. In the story the villagers stop believing the boy after he cries wolf a second time. However, when it comes to the succession of disproven and baseless claims by Greenpeace about genetically modified (GM) crops, we seem to have almost endless patience and Greenpeace has been unable to provide one piece of scientifically credible evidence that there is anything wrong with GM crops.

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Why Greenpeace continue to raise concern over GM crops is perplexing. It is particularly baffling because the world faces huge challenges in feeding a growing population in a changing climate.

GM crops have delivered a wide range of benefits including reducing water, fuel and insecticide use and have increased farmer incomes across the globe by more than $50 billion. Greenpeace claims that GM crops increase costs to farmers and state there is no viable market for such crops. Claims such as these discredit Australian farmers as astute and independent thinkers who choose to grow GM. Farmers are highly skilled at using complex technologies, are often tertiary educated and are savvy businesspeople who have proven they can survive harsh climactic conditions and low prices for their crops. In other words, farmers would not choose to plant GM crops if they did not benefit from them.

Greenpeace’s “Spliced Bread” report contains absolutely no new evidence and the few studies that have been quoted in the report are either misrepresented or have been thoroughly discredited by the scientific community. The report claims that conventional breeding is safer than genetic modification, but this is not the view conveyed by scientific experts in Australia and abroad.

  •  “GM products have been in several foods for many years and consumed without any substantiated evidence of ill effects on health, and their safety confirmed by many peer‑reviewed studies world-wide”. Australian Academy of Science (2007)
  • “There is a comprehensive body of knowledge that already adequately addresses current food safety issues including those dealing with GM products; it is considered by the experts as sufficient to assess the safety of GM products.” European Union Joint Research Centre (2008)
  •  “GM foods currently available on the international market have undergone risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health any more than their conventional counterparts”. World Health Organization (2005)

These are independent bodies of expert scientists who have no vested interest in GM crops. Views such as those expressed by the WHO should be given more credibility than political and environmental activists who seek to repeat the same exhausted messages.

American philosopher George Santayana once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. If we do not put the alarmist claims of Greenpeace into context we will be condemned to a future where the scientific breakthroughs we require to feed a hungry world will be delayed for unsubstantiated reasons. This is already happening with GM Golden Rice.

Golden Rice produces a precursor of Vitamin A that the human stomach converts to Vitamin A during digestion. It has the potential to prevent millions of children from going blind or dying from Vitamin A deficiency in the third world. Although it was scientifically ready in 1999 it is still awaiting regulatory approvals and will probably be planted for the first time in 2012.

As noted by the Golden Rice developer Professor Ingo Potrykus, Golden Rice fulfils all the wishes the GMO opposition had earlier expressed in their criticism of the use of GM crops. Golden Rice has not been developed by and for industry. It fulfils an urgent need by complementing traditional interventions. It presents a sustainable, cost-free solution, not requiring other resources. It avoids the unfortunate negative side effects of the Green Revolution. Industry does not benefit from it. Those who benefit are the poor and disadvantaged. It is given free of charge and restrictions to subsistence farmers. It does not create any new dependencies. It will be grown without any additional inputs. It does not create advantages to rich landowners. It can be resown every year from the saved harvest. It does not reduce agricultural biodiversity and it does not affect natural biodiversity. There is, so far, no conceptual negative effect on the environment nor is there any conceivable risk to consumer health. Finally, it was not possible to develop the trait with traditional methods.

Professor Potrykus concludes that “Optimists might, therefore, have expected that the GMO opposition would welcome this case. As the contrary is the case, and GMO opposition is doing everything to prevent “Golden Rice” reaching the subsistence farmer, we have learned that GMO opposition has a hidden, political agenda. It is not so much the concern about the environment, or the health of the consumer, or the help for the poor and disadvantaged. It is a radical fight against a technology and for political success.”

While Greenpeace and many other activist groups seem happy to adopt and embrace other health related applications in technology, it is dumbfounding as to why GM food crops are so ferociously opposed. To accept and embrace technologies such as insulin which is mostly produced by GM bacteria, but to refuse food crops that benefit human health is hypocritical and a slap in the face of innovation. Regardless of their motivation, these claims deserve to be subjected to a much higher degree of scrutiny. It is no longer good enough to cry wolf.