People behind politics

The movement against genetic modification is strong but a lot of the opposition is based far more on politics and emotion than science.

Those buying into the politics and emotion forget about the people who could benefit from GM food like golden rice.

Dietary micronutrient deficiencies, such as the lack of vitamin A, iodine, iron or zinc, are a major source of morbidity (increased susceptibility to disease) and mortality worldwide. These deficiencies affect particularly children, impairing their immune system and normal development, causing disease and ultimately death. The best way to avoid micronutrient deficiencies is by way of a varied diet, rich in vegetables, fruits and animal products.

The second best approach, especially for those who cannot afford a balanced diet, is by way of nutrient-dense staple crops. Sweet potatoes, for example, are available as varieties that are either rich or poor in provitamin A. Those producing and accumulating provitamin A (orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes) are called biofortified,* as opposed to the white-fleshed sweet potatoes, which do not accumulate provitamin A. In this case, what needs to be done is to introduce the biofortified varieties to people used to the white-fleshed varieties, as is happening at present in southern Africa by introducing South American varieties of orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes.

Unfortunately, there are no natural provitamin A-containing rice varieties. In rice-based societies, the absence of β-carotene in rice grains manifests itself in a marked incidence of blindness and susceptibility to disease, leading to an increased incidence of premature death of small children, the weakest link in the chain.

Rice plants produce β-carotene (provitamin A) in green tissues but not in the endosperm (the edible part of the seed). The outer coat of the dehusked grains—the so-called aleurone layer—contains a number of valuable nutrients, e.g. vitamin B and nutritious fats, but no provitamin A. These nutrients are lost with the bran fraction in the process of milling and polishing. While it would be desirable to keep those nutrients with the grain, the fatty components are affected by oxidative processes that make the grain turn rancid when exposed to air. Thus, unprocessed rice—also known as brown rice—is not apt for long-term storage.

Even though all required genes to produce provitamin A are present in the grain, some of them are turned off during development. This is where the ingenuity of the Golden Rice inventors, Profs Ingo Potrykus (formerly ETH Zurich) and Peter Beyer (University of Freiburg) comes into play. They figured out how to turn on this complex pathway again with a minor intervention.

One of the criticisms used by opponents of Genetic modifcation is that it’s not about feeding the hungry but about controlling food supply.

The International Rice Research Institute:

Golden Rice was invented by Professor Ingo Potrykus, then of the Institute for Plant Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Professor Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany. By 1999, Professor Potrykus and Dr. Beyer produced a prototype Golden Rice and published their landmark research in Science.

The inventors’ desire to donate Golden Rice as a gift to resource-poor farmers in developing countries led to a public-private partnership with Syngenta to help further develop Golden Rice.

Scientists at Syngenta then carried out additional laboratory, greenhouse, and field research to help raise the beta carotene levels in Golden Rice. In 2005, they developed a new version of Golden Rice that produces substantially more beta carotene than the 1999 prototype – as published in Nature Biotechnology.

Syngenta arranged royalty-free access to the patents and intellectual property, held by several biotechnology companies, for a number of key technologies used in Golden Rice. This allows IRRI and others to develop Golden Rice varieties on a non-profit basis. . .

Not everyone will be swayed by those inconvenient facts.

For those who prefer emotion there’s one of the people hurt by the politics:
"Since Golden Rice was first announced in 2000, Greenpeace has made a concerted effort to block its introduction. They have waged a campaign of misinformation, trashed the scientists who are working to bring Golden Rice to the people who need it, and supported the violent destruction of Golden Rice field trials at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines." By opposing Golden Rice, Greenpeace defies its own values – and harms children: Image via

34 Responses to People behind politics

  1. robertguyton says:

    “The movement against genetic modification is strong but a lot of the opposition is based far more on politics and emotion than science.”

    That’s complete nonsense, Ele and nonsense you are repeating over and over. I guess you are taking the claim from some source that seeks to introduce GMOs into our environment. That’s a direct threat to our economy and our environment. It’s shameful, in my view, that you align with such a movement.


  2. Andrei says:

    Robert Guyton, the wheat which is used to make the flour to bake your bread is a genetically modified organism created over millennia by farmers – the difference between that and “golden rice” is that with modern science we can improve our crops far more rapidly and systematically than the farmers of old could accomplish.


  3. Paranormal says:

    RG, have you considered your emotion based, bordering on slanderous, comment without any facts is reinforcing Ele’s view?


  4. pmofnz says:

    rg, The only ‘direct threat to our economy and our environment’ are greenies.


  5. robertguyton says:

    Ele contradicts her ’emotion clouds issue’ post with a highly emotive image and message – pleeeeeeease


  6. jabba says:

    nonsense and shameful .. it’s not possible to have an opinion opposite to yours aye bOb?
    Do you allow people you slag you off on your “blog”?


  7. blokeinauckland says:

    Where is your evidence Mr Guyton of “…That’s a direct threat to our economy and our environment.”


  8. robertguyton says:

    GMO pollen pollutes natural plants, creating seed that is changed forever, meaning markets for non-GMO plants are destroyed – there’s your economic damage and your environmental damage right there, bloke.


  9. TraceyS says:

    No pmofnz, according to Robert, pollination is the problem. He stopped short of suggesting it should be ceased.


  10. TraceyS says:

    The issue here, Andrei, is that someone is making money out of clever science.


  11. blokeinauckland says:

    Evidence dear boy, evidence is what was requested. You have provided none. Hyperbole is not evidence.


  12. robertguyton says:

    “dear boy”?
    Are you a Toff, blokeinauckland?
    I take it from your inability to follow my argument, that you haven’t any depth to your knowledge of plants or genetic engineering.
    I challenge to you show one example of hyperbole in my 12:47 post. Then I challenge you to show that I am wrong in my claims.


  13. pmofnz says:

    Now there’s an idea – maybe stopping cross-pollination of greenies is the answer!


  14. blokeinauckland says:

    So you’ve given up at the first hint of friction. No evidence – Some activist you are. Not.

    You will advocate homeopaths running the health system next.


  15. robertguyton says:

    Bloke – your ‘show me the evidence’ is a tired old ploy used by people like yourself who can’t debate ideas openly, but I’ll play the game. Before I laboriously search out examples that you can counter with some witless jibes (such as those PMofNZ is employing elsewhere on this thread), answer me this, if you will/can. Do you support the moves by the Government/Peter Dunne to legislate that synthetic highs have to be tested and proven to be safe before they are introduced to the market in NZ? I’m betting you do. The logic is that the manufacturers and purveyors of those substances/products have to shoulder the burden of proof. You with me, bloke? It would seem consistent then, wouldn’t it, to require that the GMO people would have to do the same – prove their products safe. It follows too, that you and Ele, promoters of GMO crops, should do the same, that is, prove that they are safe for use in the open environment here in New Zealand. However, here we have you screeching quite the opposite – declaring pompously, that I should have to provide proof to back my assertions. How hypocritical that makes you, bloke, do you see?
    I expect you’ll flee from the discussion now, or simply repeat your line, weak as it is. My argument, that GMOs are a threat to our economy and environment, can be discussed using the facts at hand, logic and a willingness to engage in adult discussion. Are you up for it, bloke?
    Lots of challenges in there for you, I know, but why not try your hand, eh?


  16. robertguyton says:

    Didn’t/couldn’t do either, I see, bloke.


  17. robertguyton says:

    The issue with Andrei’s claims is that he’s conflating traditional plant breeding with modern genetic engineering. It’s a feeble trick that fails to impress me. It’s on a par with, ‘there’s always been climate change’, when ‘climate change’ now has a specific meaning and is short-hand for AGW, but by closing one eye, then the other, deniers can convince themselves and their fellow deniers that there’s nothing going on, nothing to see here. It’s funny in a sad sort of way.


  18. TraceyS says:

    Nothing feeble in recognising that technology has changed along with the times.


  19. jabba says:

    “It’s on a par with, ‘there’s always been climate change” .. goodness me


  20. robertguyton says:

    Your comment means nothing in the context of the discussion, Tracey. It’s a truism that no one is arguing against.
    Who doesn’t recognise that technology has changed along with the times?
    Not all technologies, however, should be deployed, simply because they are ‘modern’. Some technologies are biocidal, if such a word exists.


  21. robertguyton says:

    Brilliant comment, jabba.


  22. jabba says:

    you have said some pretty dumb things here bOb but suggesting that climate change is new takes the cake .. keep the laughs comong


  23. TraceyS says:

    In this day and age, with all our modern technology, there’s no excuse for using a word you don’t know the meaning of when you have the opportunity to look it up.

    Limits placed on technologies that are legally developed must be supported by compelling reasons in my view.


  24. robertguyton says:

    What word don’t I know the meaning of, Tracey?
    If you are referring to ‘biocidal’ I do know its meaning. You comment is odd. And School-marmish.
    “Limits placed on technologies that are legally developed must be supported by compelling reasons in my view.”
    Indeed. And the reasons for not releasing GMO crops into the environment in New Zealand are compelling. Economic and environmental harm. Those are compelling.When I worked at a museum, I was trained in the practice of only making changes and taking actions that can be reversed without harm. That’s good advice. Released GMOs on the scale Ele is promoting cannot be ‘recalled’. Lab trials for the sake of medicine, yes. Open field production of GMO crops, no.


  25. Viv K says:

    ‘Opposition is based far more on politics and emotion than science’ No, that’s wrong. Opposition to widespread release of genetically plants is based on the fact that there has not been adequate scientific testing to have confidence in their safety. Such testing has to take years, it can not be fast tracked. I’m presuming you are familiar with the precautionary principle Ele? If you genuinely cared about the girl in the photo, why would you expose her to a GE product that has not had long term testing? Someone who actually cared would be promoting naturally vitamin A rich foods in agriculture and diets. Science also tells us that fat is necessary for vitamin A uptake and iron is needed to convert betacarotene to vitamin A. Only a genuine effort to provide a balanced diet with fruit and vegetables will truly help malnourished kids, that is where the effort should be going, but there are no profits for multinational corporations in that.


  26. TraceyS says:

    The issue here, Viv, is that someone is making money out of clever science.

    The third section of your last sentence says it all really.


  27. robertguyton says:

    What a strange stuck-record you are, Tracey. Your ‘the issue here is…’, is nonsense. You ignored the substance of my discussion pointedly, and ignored Ele’s at the same time, until someone (Viv in this instance) mentioned multinationals, then you pounced, joyous in the self-knowledge that now you could argue your pet issue.
    I’ll drift off now, so that you can thrash your ‘you greenies hate business/money/America’ to death. In any case, I’ve claimed far more than my share of this blog and I know it irritates the hell out of many of Ele’s readers. And tomorrow is Day One in the Council. Must focus…


  28. Viv K says:

    Researchers involved in the 2008 Chinese trials of golden rice have admitted violating scientific ethics laws after feeding genetically modified rice to children without disclosing to parents the true nature of what they were being fed. They altered the consent forms because the information that the food was GE was considered ‘too sensitive’. So in one sense Ele your claim that opposition to GE is ’emotional’ is correct, outrage, disgust and anger are valid responses to those who experiment on other people’s children and mislead their parents. However admirable the goal of reducing vitamin A related blindness is, the ends do not justify the means. Those testing golden rice have been found to have disregarded scientific ethics, why should anyone trust them?


  29. Andrei says:

    Someone who actually cared would be promoting naturally vitamin A rich foods in agriculture and diets.

    Actually Viv if you knew the history of “golden rice” and its development you’ld realize that the concept was derived and developed by Someone who actually cared about vitamin A deficiency in the children who have to subsist on a diet of mainly rice, not through choice but through absolute necessity.

    And that someone looking at the problem not as an ivory tower theorist going on about “balanced diets” containing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (something these people would enjoy no doubt if they could, came up with a feasible, we hope, solution to provide that which is necessary with what is available to those people, that is RICE.

    If it were feasible to provide the affected populations with fresh silver beet, water melons, tangerines and porterhouse steaks and so forth to go with their rice it would be much better for sure but alas it isn’t feasible to do this whereas providing them with a form of their staple crop that addresses this particular issue is possible, practical and indeed a HUMANITARIAN approach to what has been an intractable problem.

    Alas a great many people with whom we share the planet do not have access to a supermarket filled with the bounties of the earth, nor the dengi to purchase the products that would line the shelves, coolers and chillers even one were in their neighbourhood


  30. Viv K says:

    It says more about you Tracey, that you completely ignore everything else and imply that my objections are based on envy of profits made by corporations.


  31. TraceyS says:

    To Viv and Robert, I simply wished to highlight the main difference between age-old genetic modification and modern genetic modification. The later necessarily involves modern commerce and all the issues that go with it. There is no way that genetic engineering of organisms could operate at the subsistence level, therefore many of the issues highlighted simply have to be worked through just like almost everything else in this life. If the developers of new technology have to solve every potential problem then human progress will grind to a halt.

    You both should realise that not responding to issues is not the same thing as ignoring them. I have commented on these issues before. You could always look them up if you want to know what I think.


  32. Viv K says:

    The main difference between age old GM (selective plant breeding) and modern GM is not commerce! Modern GM inserts genes from different species into the chromosome of an organism. We do not know that the outcomes of such interventions will be safe. Transgenic crops are a completely new development and can not be compared with conventional plant breeding, which incidently has also been hugely profitable in the past,( eg tulip fever) You really don’t get it if you think the main objection is jealousy about other people making money.


  33. TraceyS says:

    Don’t give yourself too much credit, Robert – you’re not all that annoying. You wear your heart on your sleeve which affords you some immunity I consider, especially since you have toned down your disrespectful comments on certain individuals.

    We all have “pet” issues don’t we Robert? Any why not? There are far too many important issues to care deeply about them all for all of the time. Specialisation, or selectivity, is therefore inevitable, and a person’s right in my view. Thank goodness we are not all the same!


  34. Andrei says:

    We do not know that the outcomes of such interventions will be safe.


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