Owen Paterson overdoes his attack on Greenpeace

Anyone reading my blog will know that I’m no knee-jerk supporter of Greenpeace, though I think they do some great work on climate, forests, overfishing and other areas. However, in today’s extended Radio 4 Today Programme interview the UK’s former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson severely overstates his case in attacking Greenpeace for blocking golden rice and thereby killing thousands of people every day who die from vitamin A deficiency.

It is not disputed that Greenpeace has campaigned against Golden Rice in the past (see this 2010 report) and continues to be critical today. Nor is it disputed that Vitamin A deficiency is a severe problem, which according to the World Health Organisation leads to the preventable deaths of thousands (mainly young children) per day.

However, it is not correct or fair to attribute these ongoing deaths solely or even mainly to Greenpeace’s actions. If you listen to Paterson’s statement (reported here in the Telegraph, or listen to the audio link here, starting at 1:39:28), Paterson accuses Greenpeace of being morally responsible for a proportion of “6,000 people” who have “died from vitamin A deficiency… since yesterday”.

There is some interesting work on how many lives have been lost because of the delay in the availability of Golden Rice: one recent peer-reviewed paper proposed a figure of 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade because of the non-availability of Golden Rice. Doug Parr from Greenpeace, who spoke to the BBC the previous day, was also wrong to say that golden rice “doesn’t work” – absolutely it works; I have seen it myself on location at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and levels of Vitamin A precursor beta carotene are now high enough to deliver a major nutritional boost.

However the fact is that the blame for the current non-availability of Golden Rice cannot be laid entirely at the door of Greenpeace – the fact is that IRRI has not actually yet sought approval from the Filipino authorities for the release of Golden Rice. (Release is planned later for Bangladesh and Indonesia, later still elsewhere.) As IRRI (and its partner PhilRice) itself has stated, there is a concern that the current genetic ‘event’ used in Golden Rice lowers the yield somewhat as compared to conventional varieties, and so farmers may not want to plant it. IRRI wants to address this so that a final Golden Rice put forward for approval will deliver an equivalent or higher yield than conventional white varieties. In addition, nutritional studies also have to be carried out before release to study how Golden Rice might improve nutritional status in an everyday social context.

So Owen Paterson is clearly wrong to focus the blame for 6,000 daily deaths from Vitamin A deficiency squarely on Greenpeace. This is particularly the case given that this global total could in any case only be partially addressed by rice biofortification, given that some Vitamin-A deficient populations are not rice-dependent. (A biofortified ‘golden’ cassava is now becoming available in East Africa, and is improving the nutritional status of poorer people there, but has not been the focus of anti-GMO opposition because it was developed using conventional breeding – unfortunately not possible for rice.)

Paterson is also wrong to blame Greenpeace for the outrageous destruction of a Golden Rice field trial in the Philippines last year. (“It is utterly wicked that last year Greenpeace activists trashed trials on Golden Rice”, Paterson told the BBC.) As I wrote myself, this action was carried out by different groups – which received some verbal support from Greenpeace in media statements, but clearly Greenpeace itself was not involved in the destruction. These groups, which turn out to be part-funded by the Swedish government – as I revealed here on this blog – are far more to blame for any delays than Greenpeace right now.

In my experience the scientists involved with developing Golden Rice are the first to insist that it should not be seen as a silver bullet towards addressing vitamin A deficiency in Asia. They are being extremely careful to ensure that Golden Rice will only be part of a wider strategy to improve diets and encourage poverty reduction – aims which Greenpeace also says that it shares. To his credit, Greenpeace’s Doug Parr has also made clear that Greenpeace does not oppose biofortifiation in cassava (because it’s non-GMO).

It may seem strange coming from me, but perhaps a less polarised debate might be useful in utilising all the potential ways – including but not exclusively focusing on GM – that micronutrient deficiencies, restricted diets and poverty can be addressed. Wildly overdone statements such as those by Owen Paterson attacking Greenpeace surely do not help.

30 Comments

  1. Anthony Simpson

    This is an interesting article. I listened to the Radio 4 Today debate and it’s useful to have another perspective on this. I generally find Doug Parr to be reasonably straight-forward. I think it’s important for people to focus on facts/science and be open minded to modify their views as this develops – as I know Mark you have on several subjects. It is crucial the green organisations are consistent in terms of science, and this may impact deep rooted issues such as GMO, as well as nuclear energy in the face of climate change.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth York

      The biggest problem with Owen Paterson’s impassioned plea was that it was based on the misinformation that Golden Rice was ready for commercialisation.
      It never has been, not because of opposition, but because of the difficulty of engineering the crop to have all the needed traits in field conditions. It has spent most of its time in the lab, being worked on. IRRI, the organisation developing it said in March 2014 that “An important goal of the trials was to test whether the agronomic performance of the new rice variety would be acceptable to farmers. The initial results indicate that more research is needed, with greater focus on increasing yield. Based on these results, a decision has been reached to move forward from work solely focused on GR2-R to also include other versions of Golden Rice, such as GR2-E and others.” http://irri.org/golden-rice/faqs/what-is-the-status-of-the-golden-rice-project-coordinated-by-irri
      So it’s back in the lab for however long it takes to produce another variety that they hope will have a better yield.

    2. Elizabeth York

      Interestingly Mark Lynas’s own views on Golden Rice seem variable. On 9th March 2013 in the Observer, Mark Lynas said of the fact that Golden Rice wasn’t available “There are tens of thousands of kids who are dead who wouldn’t be dead otherwise. I don’t see how you could put this any other way. Imagine if Monsanto had been culpable in the deaths of tens of thousands of children! It would be all over the Guardian.” The article says he later admitted that “there have been technical hold-ups in the golden rice project, and you can’t solely blame Greenpeace for the overregulation that is applied to GMOs”

      However, 7 months later, on October 5th 2013, Mark Lynas seems to have forgotten this correction, as I heard him on Radio 4’s Today programme supporting Patrick Moore’s (not the astronomy man) “Allow Golden Rice Now” campaign. Mark told listeners that Golden Rice “could be saving lives right now. The reason it hasn’t happened is because of the large scale opposition of the environmental movement and that needs to stop.” The Allow Golden Rice Now campaign is currently pointless, as GR is not ready for use, because of its low yield.

  2. Robert Wilson

    Owen Paterson’s – should I really say Matt Ridley’s? – grip on reality is clearly very weak.

    The simple thing is to let Greenpeace by hoist on their own petard on this issue. Doug Parr’s comments yesterday should have been enough. Gladly justifying Greenpeace joining with the Catholic Church to block embryonic stem cell research, gladly supporting blocking Golden Rice. That’s more than enough to condemn them morally.

    But, as I said. Paterson appears to have little grip on reality, as his speech made clear. Combined heat and power can save emissions and energy? Not so, according to any numerate analysis, as David MacKay has made clear. The usual gibberish about wind farms not reducing emissions because of the need for back up. The outrageous claims, from a rich land owner, that wind farms are bad because rich land owners benefit. I imagine Paterson’s ghost writer is about to give up his inherited land and title to prove just how much he believes his own anti-wind farm rhetoric.

    Sadly, we now end up with the usual complaints about Paterson being an ideologue. And he is. But these complaints come from Greenpeace, an organisation whose idiology leads them to the conclusion that while blindness in children may be bad, eating golden rice is much worse. I can never tell who is more dangerous.

    Reply
    1. Mary M

      Right, there’s enough reason to hold Greenpeace responsible for interfering with the progress of research on many fronts. And there are some crop destruction events definitely linked to them, which they brag about. But it’s not possible to calculate how much their prevention of getting something like nitrogen-efficient wheat into farmers’ hands has set back environmental benefits–so they aren’t held responsible for the long-term consequences. It’s a great gig for them. Block solutions, while fundraising that these issues aren’t solved.

      But if it’s so easy and cheap to solve with these mythical kitchen gardens in the slums of Manila that have 80,000 people per sq km, why isn’t it sorted yet? Couldn’t some of the flights that the Greenpeace management team took have paid for all of that and sorted it by now?

  3. Robert

    Well, there’s a split, isn’t there? There’s the stuff that Greenpeace individually is responsible for, and there’s the stuff that the movement that includes Greenpeace is responsible for. The irrational, ignorant trashing of GMOs including golden rice is not Greenpeace’s fault directly, but they are a leading part of the group. I think Owen Paterson spoke specifically about Greenpeace when he meant them as an exemplar; that’s just the sort of thing politicians do.
    I was a member of Greenpeace, but left when I found their middle-class absolutist posturing exceeded the good they did. This happened over waste-to-power stations, which they managed to block in the midlands by making people afraid of dioxins. But this story is much the same.

    Reply
  4. @_Polinard

    So, in a nutshell – Gmo Golden Rice works, but it doesn’t work (not yet anyway!), whereas conventionally bred Golden Cassava just works, but it’s OK we can just go on blaming Greenpeace for it all.
    #gmo technology, the greatest ‘jam tomorrow’ scam there has ever been.

    Reply
  5. Mike Hamblett

    I appreciate Mark’s even-handed effort to clarify the situation. Paterson and Ridley are an embarrassment to us all.

    Reply
    1. John Benton

      And your comment is an embarrassment to yourself. Even one of Greenpeace founders Patrick Moore yesterday condemned hem as an “evil organisation”.

  6. Adrian Dubock

    Owen Paterson is correct.

    Greenpeace is the main opponent cynically managing public opinion and ignoring science for their ideological opposition to a useful extension of seed breeding – whereever it is deployed – techniques which can deliver traits unavailable without it. They are a business. They sell controversy, and use the income to pay themselves. Listen to Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore at http://www.allowgoldenricenow.org .

    The irony is that by Greenpeace’s objections, they reinforce the move to oligopoly and effectively deny the scaleable technology to developing countries and small companies.

    GMO-crop technology is just another seed breeding technology. Before you criticize it you should understand all the other seed breeding technologies used to produce the food that you eat. And if you drink wine and beer, or eat cheese and bread, or know a diabetic, someone who needs insulin to stay alive be thankful for gmo-technology. It’s essential to production of all of them.

    And Owen’s facts are correct. e mail me if you want : contact@goldenrice.org and i’ll send you the proofs.

    Pedantically speaking, Mark, you are correct. But not morally.

    Reply
    1. John Benton

      Well said. This article is a squirming attempt to deny the reality of Greenpeace involvement in the destruction of the field trials.

    2. Clyde Davies

      No it isn’t. Mark has been a scathing a critic of Greenpeace’s tactics as one can imagine a reasonable person being. The tone is more that of ‘a plague on both your houses’. I can sympathise with neither Greenpeace nor Paterson.

    3. Jonathan Brown

      In a world filled with political bandstanding and misrepresentation, not least by proponents and opponents of GMO’s – who should anyone “believe”?

      There is a great deal of logic in what the UN promote – a smaller average farm size that grows a greater variety of organic yet integrated products, sustainably, all from being much more attuned to the real needs of the local community.

      Many economists are suggesting a potential, very serious, financial collapse, add to that climate change and other political problems and the only sane route is that which mitigates risk.

  7. Clyde Davies

    Paterson has also claimed that there has been ‘no warming over the past 18 years’, which is an untruth commonly parroted by AGW-deniers. I have a fairly dim view of Greenpeace too, and I find it hard to be sympathetic when they are victims of misrepresentation. But my enemy’s enemy is most certainly *not* my friend.

    Reply
  8. Jonathan Brown

    What I love is the way that people with no first hand experience of the living conditions that people with Vitamin A deficiency suffer still have such adamant convictions about the subject. I live in the Philippines among people, some of whom endure the consequences of long term vitamin A and other micronutrient deficiencies. This is the same country where much of the development of golden rice is taking place via the IRRI.

    Historically, the per hectare rice yields in the Philippines have generally been low in comparison with other Asian countries. The Philippines is the 8th largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 2.8% of global rice production, even so, the Philippines is also one of the world’s largest rice importers.

    A parallel to the vitamin A deficiency problem, in the UK is criticism of the poor, by the government, for eating too many convenience foods. It is that underlying lack of understanding and empathy that is so dumbly arrogant.

    What people need is a varied wholesome diet and not some scientist’s conceptual modification to a bulk food. What people need is to know and understand how best to achieve that wholesome balanced diet on a very small budget. Part of the problem is poverty, if the basic budget is inadequate then vitamin A deficiency amongst many other dietary deficiencies will continue. The first problem is to ensure enough money for all to be able to afford a balanced diet.

    If truth be acknowledged then vitamin A deficiency is being reduced significantly without golden rice. In large part that reduction has been gained through an across-the-board education process in schools and communities. It should be noted that some wealthy people have vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by dietary ignorance.

    We hear a great deal about the non-existent, truly viable “golden” rice but how many people are aware of “black” rice? Black rice has twice the protein, three times the iron, eight times the zinc and eight times the fibre of ordinary white rice. Black rice is rich in anthocyanin antioxidants, substances that show promise for fighting cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. Black rice is here now and delivers what’s promised.

    Sweet potato is about a third of the cost of rice and contains (amongst many other goodies that rice lack) 14187 (IU) of Vitamin A. Grows in most countries where rice is grown. Provides both tubers and “greens” from the edible tops.

    One of the greatest rewards I have is seeing people that I cook for suddenly realise that rice is not the “only” dietary option. When they appreciate that changes in their diet help them to recover somewhat from chronic dietary deficiencies with reduced or no medication – they then have more disposable income to improve their lives. This is real people with real lives who struggle for survival often in appalling conditions.

    Reply
    1. Clyde Davies

      So what possible harm could be done by introducing golden rice as a dietary option? ‘Real people with real lives who struggle for survival’ need all the options they can get, without having them circumscribed by pampered Westerners. By all means, follow your own instincts and do what you feel is right, and people like me won’t stand in your way. And, by the same token, get out of *our* way while you’re at it.

  9. Adrian Dubock

    yes Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is above all a poverty problem. The UN has been saying it wants to overcome the deficiency for 25 years. The UN is also now officially trying to reduce poverty to zero. In the meantime what about the VAD sufferers. In the 9 months or so that the latest Ebola virus has been killing people it’s killed about 5000. In the last 25 years VAD has killed about 6000 mostly children and mothers, every day. Do the maths – however bad your maths is, however slightly inaccurate the figure is, the answer is horrific. One member of your family would be enough to alight your indignation.

    Should we deny a potential additional intervention which is free for fear of globalisation, or undescribed potential risks (which are actually non-existent)? Who are we to decide the lethal fate of millions? Shouldn’t we out of humanity, try to assist those who have difficultly helping themselves?

    This whole project is run on the cheap. It is completely not-for-profit. No one involved with its development will benefit financially from adoption or not. To try for adoption is just the right thing to do. All support is welcome!

    Reply
  10. Mark Pawelek

    I found, Owen Paterson wasn’t nearly hard enough of Greenpeace. Ex-Greenpeace man: Patrick Moore says “Greenpeace have turned into an evil organization”. Perhaps because Greenpeace hamper:
    * stem cell research by allying themselves with the catholic church
    * R&D and deployment of GMOs
    * zero-carbon emitting nuclear power
    * cheap electricity in the 3rd world (hydro power, etc., …)

    On BBC radio 4 Today programme [ Weds, 15 Oct 2014, 7:34 am, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04l0zpv ], Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace Chief Scientist can be listened to dissembling once again. According to Dr Parr, Golden rice:
    * is the least favourable option
    * does not work

    Dr Parr says we should not proceed with a partial solution to vitamin A deficiency until we can deploy the perfect green alternative. Doug poses ‘home gardening’ in the developing world as an alternative to partial solutions such as golden rice. How many people living large cities in developing nations have large suitable gardening plots able to support themselves? How many have the time to garden? Does he even care whether his primitive, impractical so-called solutions make sense? I doubt it.

    Exactly why the BBC consider an atmospheric chemist such as Dr. Parr to be an expert on diverse scientific issues such as GMOs is beyond my ken. Meanwhile, left and mainstream scientists provide little opposition to Greenpeace. Instead of taking the opportunity to argue for a scientific push to alleviate energy and food poverty last Thursday – World Food Day – we find people like Sally Davies (UK Chief Medical Office) pushing for a ban on smoking in public parks. What sort of public health are these Lilliputian-minded doctors interested in?

    Reply
    1. Clyde Davies

      “Meanwhile, left and mainstream scientists provide little opposition to Greenpeace. ”

      I try to do my bit.

    2. Jonathan Brown

      Science as a religion eh? Such faith in the absolute ability of science to solve everthing. Add to that the the need for highly trained scientific but compartmentalised, specialisation as being the only basis for credibility?

      The reality is that science works best, the other way round. It starts with a combination of imagination and intellect to come up with an hypothesis.

      The cross fertilization of ideas across multiple disciplines, already greatly reduced, goes out the window in your scenario. Imagination and intellect are rarely constrained by those, often academically, imposed boundaries of specialisation. I know, let’s all gain a grant to reinvent the wheel.

      What I find hilarious is the lack of scientific confidence in the people who are actually doing the development work. To all you supposed scientists screaming hysterically for the release of golden rice, please check your facts – these can be found at:

      http://irri.org/golden-rice/faqs/what-is-the-status-of-the-golden-rice-project-coordinated-by-irri

      Golden Rice will only be made broadly available to farmers and consumers if it is: (a) successfully developed into rice varieties that retain the same yield, pest resistance, and grain quality—agronomic and eating traits acceptable to farmers and consumers—as current popular rice varieties; (b) deemed safe and approved by national regulators; and (c) shown to improve vitamin A status under community conditions. If Golden Rice is found to be safe and efficacious, a sustainable delivery program will ensure that Golden Rice is acceptable and accessible to those most in need.

    3. Clyde Davies

      I’ve forgotten more science than *you* will ever know, and it’s pretty clear that you do not have the faintest inkling of the research process and what it entails. I also know that what IRRI is doing is making sure that their product is totally fit for the market. There isn’t any ‘lack of confidence’ whatsoever. Step (c) in the process is pretty much complete, step (a) is well underway (and would be even further along if people didn’t vandalise field trials) and the greatest challenge is step (b), satisfying a ridiculous amount of spurious regulation.

      The non-availability of GR in India alone has been estimated to cost 1424000 life years. Much of that has been down to pure political opposition, not a failure of the research process. You are offering nothing really except more of the same opposition and a ‘let them eat organic’ panacea.

  11. Jonathan Brown

    Clyde, I do not claim to be a scientist: This is what the IRRI say: “Regulatory authorities in the Philippines are also continually consulted to determine the significance, if any, of data lost due to the vandalism by militants of the MLT site at Pili, Camarines Sur, in August 2013.” – Scarcely seems that momentous an event seeing that there were other test sites.

    They go on to say: “The first round of MLTs was conducted using one of the most advanced versions of Golden Rice: GR2 event “R” (GR2-R). This first round took place in 2012-13 to assess how well this version of Golden Rice would perform in different locations in the Philippines. Preliminary results were mixed. While the target level of beta-carotene in the grain was attained, average yield was unfortunately lower than that from comparable local varieties already preferred by farmers.” So yields are not as good as yet…

    “An important goal of the trials was to test whether the agronomic performance of the new rice variety would be acceptable to farmers. The initial results indicate that more research is needed, with greater focus on increasing yield. Based on these results, a decision has been reached to move forward from work solely focused on GR2-R to also include other versions of Golden Rice, such as GR2-E and others.” In other words GR2-R (one of the most advanced versions) wasn’t wholly satisfactory (no real explanation given apart from yield, not cause of reduced yield), so let’s try again some other less initially advanced variants.

    The IRRI start by saying: “Golden Rice is unique because it contains beta carotene, which gives it a golden color. Many fruits and vegetables that are commonly eaten, such as squash, papaya and carrots, also get their color from beta carotene.” – even the IRRI acknowledge there are viable alternatives.

    What I find frankly sickening is the way people will spend to plant, harvest and distribute this golden rice when it is finally developed but will spend little for those suffering from those deficiencies here and now – political blindness of a supreme order.

    What is so damned stupid is that existing alternatives are available now for less real cost to the consumer and have better provision of micronutrients overall, not just vitamin A. For example, varieties of squash, rich in vitamin A is half to two thirds of the cost of rice, even in cities. The same 100 gram portion of squash provides up to 212% of daily vitamin A requirement as opposed to the best guess 50% of daily provision of vitamin A of golden rice.

    Squash also provide phytochemical constituents such as alkaloids, flavonoids, and palmitic, plus oleic and linoleic acids. Pumpkins have anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogen, and anti-inflammatory pharmacological properties include. Pumpkins and pumpkin seeds have high levels of crude protein, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and beta-carotene. Squashes are good sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, folic acid, and iron. They are free of fat and cholesterol.

    I could go on with many many different fruits and vegetables that are available, at less or equivalent cost to rice, in the areas where vitamin A deficiency is a problem. What’s the point though when people living in Europe will not accept the facts.

    All of that said, do I agree with the way Greenpeace have addressed these issues, no; though I do appreciate their frustration.

    Reply
    1. Clyde Davies

      Yeah, I know you’re not a scientist, you ran a plastics injection moulding factory at one time. Doesn’t stop you pontificating on its relevance, though.

      “Scarcely seems that momentous an event seeing that there were other test sites.”

      Oh, I suppose that means the scientists shouldn’t complain if a few more sites get vandalised, then?

      “So yields are not as good as yet…”

      No, but many new developments don’t hit the jackpot until having been perfected after several generations. The story is same for non GMO based crops: many years of development go on to optimise performance. You line of argument is, quite frankly, pathetic: if it’s not perfect first time around, it’s not worth persisting and should be junked.

      “What I find frankly sickening is the way people will spend to plant, harvest and distribute this golden rice when it is finally developed but will spend little for those suffering from those deficiencies here and now – political blindness of a supreme order. ”

      According to an NPR interview with Gary Toenniessen of the Rockefeller Foundation, the story of Golden Rice began in 1984 with an after-work brainstorming of a group of breeders at a meeting at IRRI. The idea that was discussed there – that regular white rice does not provide enough beta-carotene to protect children from vitamin A deficiency and that they can be harmed for the rest of their lives – persuaded Toenniessen to start a Rockefeller programme to develop “yellow rice”.

      The IRRI have simply taken what they know – which is how to develop and grow rice – and applied it to a serious problem. Squash may well provide good nutrients and might even grow in the Philippines, but perhaps it doesn’t keep particularly well, or isn’t particularly easy to grow in the slums of Manila where 80,000 can live in a single square kilometer. Perhaps you should try to find the International Squash Research Institute and see if they would like to get involved?

      As regards v GR delivering the goods, this is from the clinical trial at http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/6/1776.long :
      ” Using a conversion factor in which 3.8 μg Golden Rice β-carotene provides 1 μg retinol, along with the level of Golden Rice β-carotene being 20–30 μg/g uncooked rice, we project that 100 g uncooked rice provides 500–800 μg retinol. This represents 80–100% of the estimated average requirement (EAR) for men and women and 55–70% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA, derived from the EAR) for men and women, as set by the US National Academy of Science (24). ”

      In other words, plenty.

      In short: I don’t understand what your stupid effing problem is, mate. No vital funds are being sapped from existing supplementation programs (which cost an astronomical amount compared to the projected cost of growing GR) , nobody is suggesting that a balanced diet should be abandoned in favour of one based entirely on GR, no big evil multinational is trying to muscle in on small farmers, the health risks of GR are vastly outweighed by its potential benefits and the technology is going to be made freely available to anyone who wants it. It’s just one more tool in an arsenal of tools available to combat malnutrition and poverty and doesn’t displace any other effective tools either.

      It’s just ideology, purely ideology, and nothing else, and as Mark said a while ago, it is all too typical. And I’ll bet those those people you ‘cooked for’ were just humoring you while you patronised the crap out of them.

    2. Jonathan Brown

      Clyde – that is a very disingenuous answer. The report you cite does not state which golden rice was used in the trials. As the report is dated 2009, it probably used a Japonica variety that, in trials, does not store well but does deliver the Vitamin A only if consumed rapidly after harvest. Most rice consumed is stored often for extended periods. The Japonica rice variants (short grain) are not popular with most consumers in the target countries who prefer Indus (long grain) variants.

      What you are implying is that the IRRI don’t know their own business. Even they are ambivalent about the real benefits of Golden Rice outside of specific targeted communities. As each year goes by, those specific target communities are becoming smaller and smaller.

      The Philippine government’s Vitamin A ‘patak’ program has lowered Vitamin A Deficiency in recent years. According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology, the prevalence of VAD incidence decreased from severe (40.1%) to moderate (15.2%) in the vulnerable age group of children aged between six months to five years old and from severe (20.1%) to mild (6.4%) for lactating women. That downward trend in VAD is continuing without Golden Rice.

      Golden Rice entirely misses the main issues in a debate that has little to do with rice. The problems of malnutrition (the real debate) are best addressed in their totality, not by a relentless focus on a single nutrient out of the hundreds essential for good health. Golden Rice is far from being a sustainable solution to vitamin deficiency as it encourages a diet based solely on rice.

      As I keep saying, what’s really needed is a varied diet rich in fruit and vegetables. This means, in particular, providing access to fruits and vegetables rich in pro-vitamin A, like mango, canistel, sweet potatoes, squash, jute leaves and amaranth leaves, which are plentiful in this country, and key to combatting VAD and other vitamin deficiencies, while also supplying abundant mineral nutrients. Many of those fruits and vegetables are actually cheaper here per kilo, retail, than rice.

      So please tell me – an engineered staple crop that is more expensive and provides fewer micronutrients and less health benefits than other crops that also has lower yields than alternative varieties – how on earth can that be viable?

      Rather than some bully like Paterson or you, Clyde, endeavouring to impose Golden Rice, you should listen to those with the dietary problems first hand. If indeed this is a humanitarian project, then the promoters should take all the more heed of the voices of the communities and supposed beneficiaries of Golden Rice. Those affected people should surely have the last say on whether they would or should embrace this GM technology. To date they have said a resounding “No”.

      Lastly, Clyde, are you familiar with the expression “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” How does that fit with the dispensation of Golden Rice? Of course there is a political and or commercial trade-off in some form or another, to state or believe otherwise is naive.

  12. Jonathan Brown

    What non-GMO science and old fashioned farming that embraced biodiversity can do for the world – the humble spud poised to launch a world food revolution:

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/oct/18/humble-potato-poised-to-launch-food-revolution

    Reply
  13. Katy Richards

    Well said Jonathan.
    Sadly too many people who are GMO proponents do not want all the facts, especially from someone who is knowledgable and actually involved.

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  14. Mark Pawelek

    @Jonathan

    Your proposed solution reminds me of when I was a 12-year old school boy proposing to my teacher that those in the Far East should change diet to avoid beri beri. Food is cultural and pragmatic. Because rice is already an intrinsic part of their diet, it’s more pragmatic to introduce a new rice variety than persuade Filipinos to adopt foods they’ve never used.

    == Rather than some bully like Paterson or you, Clyde, endeavouring to impose Golden Rice … ==

    Greens are the real bullies. You’re removing options from the horizon; putting words into the mouth of your opponent. Straw man, how pathetic.

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Brown

      It is so sad that you and others choose to disregard the successes in reducing Vitamin A Deficiency that I cited – educational programs that are working.

      I will ask you the same question I asked Clyde: Please tell me – an engineered staple crop, Golden Rice, that is more expensive and provides fewer micronutrients and less health benefits than other crops that also has lower yields than alternative varieties – how on earth can that be viable?.

      On the one hand you argue the complexity of food being cultural and pragmatic, then on the other hand propose a simplistic answer Golden Rice. Do you live in the Philippines and know what they eat? They do have a word for vegetables as food, it is “gulay”.

      The educational part is encouraging greater awareness of the benefits of eating a varied diet. It is promoting, not a alien diet, but greater understanding of the dietary options already well known and accepted.

      Whilst I’m sure the intentions are well meaning the underlying logic is fundamentally flawed. It is all too easy, sitting in Europe, to make assumptions about cause and effect.

      Rice is a staple food because it acts as a filler and takes away hunger pains for a time. Rice requires boiling water to cook that, in turn, requires usually a wood fuel to generate. Protein, when available, mostly requires cooking. Wood fuels are in short supply and gas is expensive. Cooking three sets of food (protein, rice and vegetables) on one burner usually means that one or other dish is served cold. In those circumstances, vegetables are given a much lower priority.

      The real answer is to promote a greater income amongst the very poorest alongside encouraging a community based food and fuel production system that enables greater dietary options.

  15. Padraig Hogan

    Mark Lynas,

    Just because you had no idea what you were doing when you were an anti-GMO activist doesn’t mean you can stroke all those people with the same brush as you well know. If you were an honest person at all you wouldn’t have gone so overboard, was it really worth it for a few moments in the limelight? When I saw some of the things you said, I thought “oh no, this must be exaggerated and totally taken out of context or maybe not even said at all” and searched for sources and I actually found examples of you saying even worse things. Instead of telling the more unremarkable boring truth of a simple change of mind, you really started singing like a canary didn’t you?

    You’re going to show up now as some kind of fair rational-minded individual arbitrating in an argument like this, when you yourself was one of the most overdramatic, exaggerative, rhetorical, trash-talking individual of all when you got the chance? Don’t make me laugh.

    Reply
  16. Jonathan Brown

    A better “Golden Rice” recipe – available now.

    Golden Rice is the supposed GMO way to go to fight vitamin A deficiency – the way I suggest is widely used variant of rice recipes from India and elsewhere. It just seemed silly to attack GMO’s without considering and promoting better alternatives.

    The recipe is carefully considered and uses the same energy as plain boiled rice to cook. The primary cause of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), that affects over 200 million people, is poverty coupled with a lack of understanding of the benefits of eating vegetables. If portions are maintained overall, size for equivalent size, this recipe is actually cheaper than plain boiled rice.

    Take your preferred rice type in usual quantity that you normally cook
    Add usual quantity of water

    Stir in finely chopped peeled fresh turmeric – about half inch length per person, if fresh turmeric unavailable, add powdered turmeric half to one teaspoon.

    Peel and chop squash into one inch cubes and place on top of rice

    Bring to boil then simmer until rice is dry and evenly golden.

    When cooked add fresh ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chopped green chillies and serve with whatever animal or fish protein cooked in your preferred way. If vegetarian, try with cheese and a sliced hard-boiled or poached egg. If Vegan, try with chopped tomato and roasted mixed nuts.

    This cooking method uses no additional energy to cook but delivers between 3 to 4 times (dependent upon squash type) the vitamin A of GMO “Golden Rice”.

    In addition to the vitamin A, squash (Cucurbita genus) is an important source of food and the fruits are good sources of several nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, dietary fiber, niacin, folic acid, and iron. In addition, they are free of fat and cholesterol. The plants also contain the toxins cucurbitin, cucurmosin and cucurbitacin. Medical uses of the plant include treating skin conditions, whilst cucurbita fruits are an important source of carotenoids, vitamin A, and rhodopsin, all of which are important to good visual acuity. Cucurbitin is an amino acid and a carboxypyrrolidine found in Cucurbita seeds that can eliminate parasitic worms.

    One active compound in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin is believed to have a wide range of biological effects including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumour, antibacterial, and antiviral activities, which indicate potential in clinical medicine. These compounds are not found in GMO Golden Rice. Turmeric also provides potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12.

    The squash can be substituted or extended using chopped carrot or sweet potato for dietary variety. Finely chopped green leaf vegetables can be incorporated ten to 15 minutes before serving and will cook in the residual heat of the rice. Weight per equal weight portion of plain boiled rice is cheaper. Looks like golden rice too.

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