Wrong again Owen Paterson

Paterson deceives the media over GMO Golden Rice

An emotive press release hypes the visit to South Africa by the discredited former UK environment secretary Owen Paterson. The press release, sent from the right-wing think-tank that Paterson founded, UK2020, accuses the European Union and Greenpeace of “condemning millions of people in developing countries to starvation and death by their stubborn refusal to accept the benefits of genetically modified crops and other potentially life-saving advances in plant sciences.”

Paterson will give his speech to the GMO industry-funded lobby group ISAAA, though it has been press released to the media and could reach a wide public. He will claim that millions of lives could have been saved if GMO Golden Rice had been available in their diet, adding that “it could have been already for several years, but for the ongoing opposition of well-financed anti-GM activist groups and their ceaseless campaign to frighten people and pressure governments to keep Golden Rice off the market.” Paterson blames Greenpeace for leading the opposition to GMO Golden Rice.

The problem with this picture is that it is utterly, ludicrously wrong – and Paterson knows it. As several people have pointed out to him on social media, GMO Golden Rice recently failed its field trials and it hasn’t been shown in tests to be safe to eat or efficacious. Before GMO Golden Rice can be released, it has to be shown to perform well in field trials and to be safe to eat and efficacious in combating vitamin A deficiency in target populations. So far it hasn’t passed any of these tests. It’s these basic R&D problems, not the opposition of environmentalists, that’s stopping GMO Golden Rice in its tracks.

And it’s not Greenpeace or GMWatch who have detailed these recent failures of GMO Golden Rice, but the IRRI, the organisation tasked with rolling out the crop. The latest round of snags comes after the Golden Rice project has swallowed millions in development funds and 20 years of scientific expertise. Meanwhile the GMO obsessives behind the project continue to ignore existing safe solutions to vitamin A deficiency that have already been proven to work in the Philippines, a country that’s targeted for GMO Golden Rice commercialisation.

All this is not to downplay or dismiss the home-grown opposition to Golden Rice in countries it’s aimed at. That opposition has been huge, well-informed, and ongoing. In the Philippines, farmers, scientists and citizens have united against the crop. They point out that there are plenty of existing and cheap sources of beta-carotene, the vitamin A precursor molecule engineered at massive expense and apparently with great difficulty into Golden Rice.

Paterson accuses opponents of GMO Golden Rice of “fanatical antagonism to progress and science”. That’s ironic, considering that Paterson is a major denier of climate science. He also appears to be completely unable to take in the most basic facts about GMO Golden Rice, even when they’re set out in plain English by the IRRI.

Paterson says environmentalists are guilty of of “myth-making and misinformation”. He characterises them as the “Green Blob” – a reference to a sci-fi movie in which a blob-like alien attacks Earth and swallows everything in its path. But the myths and misinformation are coming from Paterson – and the only blob in sight is the one apparently occupying the space where his brain should be.