Below is a draft reply from Greenpeace regarding Gordon Conway's recent 'Grains of hope' piece in the Guardian. Article at: http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,460453,00.html
Gordon Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation (Grain of hope, 21 March) and Greenpeace agree on one thing: we won't be disrupting field trials of GM rice in the Philippines. Not however because Greenpeace recognizes any "moral imperative" to impose this unpredictable technology upon poor communities in the developing world, but because - according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) , a recipient of many millions of Rockefeller foundation dollars - the GM rice will not even be ready for field trials within five years. Further, IRRI confirmed in meetings with Greenpeace that it has reservations about the gene construct - described by Conway as the "classic genetic modification" intended to alleviate vitamin A deficiency. IRRI also confirms that levels of beta-carotene - the constituent within the rice that can help create vitamin a in the body - are very low.
Dr Conway attempts to occupy the middle ground between the anti-GM "extremists" who oppose all development of this technology and the GM advocates who claim that GM can in fact do good - protecting the health of poor children - by protecting massive investments in the development of GM. He is in fact disingenuous. In dismissing the real solutions to vitamin deficiency- including a more balanced diet, combined with a programme of vitamin supplementation as either too costly or too difficult, Conway quite spectacularly misses the point. Hunger - and even malnutrition - are not the result of a shortage of food or even particular nutrients. Hunger is caused by poverty - the lack of access to money to buy food or land upon which to grow it.
The development of golden rice has already millions of dollars - and not a single grain exists outside a laboratory. Meanwhile the World Heath Organisation has established that eradicating vitamin a deficiency now would cost pennies per day for those most affected - a fraction of the money already spent on GM's poster child. Perhaps the ultimate irony in this whole sorry story is that a lack of protein and fat in the diet of the poor may well make it impossible to absorb the little beta-carotene that may be available in GM rice.
Greenpeace opposes the development of GM crops because the technology is unpredictable, imprecise and irretrievable. GM represents a real environmental threat far greater and more permanent than the "potential" benefits that are always just around the corner, with a bit more testing. No matter how Dr Conway attempts to portray it, GM crops will continue to be part of the problem, not part of the solution. The only function that they can be guaranteed to perform is to divert attention and resources from the real solutions to the challenge of creating a genuinely sustainable future for agriculture in both the developed and developing worlds.
Charlie Kronick Greenpeace UK Charlie Kronick 29 Harcourt Road Wood Green London N22 7XW UK
"The food industry... has featured the golden grains as part of a $50m campaign to promote GM foods. The message is that GM is not just about profits, it can save children's lives. All of this hype is premature and dangerous."- Gordon Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation
"This rice, although not yet available commercially, has become the "poster child" of the food biotechnology industry's extensive public relations campaign to convince the public that the benefits of genetically engineered agricultural products outweigh any safety, environmental, or social risks they might pose" but "...its benefits remain theoretical" -MARION NESTLE, Professor and Chair Department of Nutrition and Food Studies New York University