107 Nobel laureates sign letter blasting Greenpeace over GMOs

Jul 5, 2016

By Joel Achenbach

More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world.

“We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular,” the letter states.

The letter campaign was organized by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and, with Phillip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences known as introns. The campaign has a website, supportprecisionagriculture.org, that includes a running list of the signatories, and the group plans to hold a news conference Thursday morning at the National Press Club in Washington.


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18 comments on “107 Nobel laureates sign letter blasting Greenpeace over GMOs

  • @Alan4discussion

    The prime cause of world malnutrition is over-population and local wars, so those are the most urgent problems which need to be addressed.

    Population is set to spike at 11 billion (??) and the local wars are definitely downsizing from global wars, which is probably the only step in the right direction we can expect here in the foreseeable future.

    I think Golden Rice should be able to pass even your strict ecological standards Alan.



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  • Neodarwinian #4
    Jul 5, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    I think Golden Rice should be able to pass even your strict ecological standards Alan.

    I commented on the other thread that I thought it looked promising in some situations .

    The issues in choosing it (apart from corporate marketing issues), seem to be its suitability to various local growing conditions, and its yield in comparison to well adapted local varieties.

    In places like India there are huge numbers of local varieties well suited to local availability of water, altitude, etc.
    Phil was also commenting that as India is a major producer of tomatoes, the vitamin issue is one of distribution and storage in poorer areas.



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  • Truth in labeling hurts no safe product and is critical to informing the public should irresponsible GMO products endanger public health.



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  • I had a thought the other day about GMOs. Genetic Engineering is not science, it is, as the name suggests, engineering. Science is not fallible in any practical sense, if a scientist makes a mistake other scientists correct it though peer review or though more science. If a scientist makes a mistake nobody gets hurt.

    Engineering is different, being the application of scientific knowledge. Engineers do make mistakes and when they do people can get hurt. We are all aware of times engineers have made a mistake and people have died, bridge collapses are the easiest example.

    if the engineers, not scientists because they are doing engineering not science, doing genetic modification make a mistake it might not be easy to correct. Loss of biodiversity by the GMOs out competing non-GMOs is extinction, which is forever, damage to ecosystems from GMOs is forever. Health problems, if any, might not be detectable for years. If a GMO gives a percentage of the population cancer it might take decades to detect it.

    I have studied university biology (dropped out for health reasons just before completion) and later computer science. In my experience there is to much potential for error in any application of science. Engineers make mistakes. With GMOs those mistakes could be with us forever.



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  • Claire #7
    Jul 6, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    In my experience there is to much potential for error in any application of science.
    Engineers make mistakes.
    With GMOs those mistakes could be with us forever.

    True! Bio-hazards are self replicating, and a mistake with something like cereal production – given the number of individual plants in the wheat belts of the world grown year after year, – would only have to have a tiny chance of happening, to make it a near certainty.

    That is why I have in the past, given warnings about the potential of horizontal gene transfer/ leakage of genes for herbicide resistance in (Round-up-ready) cereals, moving to weed grasses to produce new herbicide resistant invasive weeds.

    There are more comments on the links @#1 #2 and #3 in a related discussion.



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  • This emotive issue typifies what’s worst in human greed.

    It might well be that GMO foods are quite safe; and will be shown never to produce even one circumstance of a poor outcome for humans or animals.
    This is not certain, but I am willing to accept its possibility.

    The real issue is less about its allegedly dubious safety – it’s about the ethical issue of a company or an individual – or even a government – actually OWNING the rights to a seed or plant; and being justified in holding the whole of humanity over a barrel; and being able to charge for its use – and to sue a person or organisation for growing such a plant (even inadvertently) for which (s)he has not paid the price.

    However much one may be able to justify- or obfuscate Monsanto’s disgusting actions over the years, it’s just not right that a genetically-manipulated species can be “owned”, even as its natural “rivals” are removed from the environment through deliberate action or hybridisation…

    By all means, use science to improve life’s best interests in all its forms, but this must be done responsibly and with huge levels of accountability; and it must be tested continuously for deleterious effects over a long period before being unleashed on the planet.



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  • @claire #7

    Engineers make mistakes. With GMOs those mistakes could be with us forever.

    Every technology in history has had its “defining” accident, the very worst one, that lives on at least in Engineering schools so new generations of engineers don’t make that mistake again. What’s the worst that can happen? That depends on the technology.

    Physical tech – structures and machines, including flying machines. Bridges collapse, trains and planes crash, and the effects are confined to those unfortunates in the immediate vicinity. Still, we remember them as disasters: Hindenburg, Challenger (and less so Columbia, partly because it wasn’t the first). But the wreckage is quickly cleared away, and doesn’t do continuing harm. It’s all over in the moment.

    Chemical tech – can kill a whole town. Bhopal. Poisons linger, but chemicals do break down, eventually, and the harmful effects of an accident can only decrease.

    Nuclear tech – has much longer reach, radioactive atoms can’t be stopped by chemical means, they continue to radiate according to the remorseless schedule of their half-lives, the best you can do is try to keep them away from us, forever (approximately). But still, ever so slowly, the amount of dangerous material from an accident does decrease over time, just very very slowly. At least, it doesn’t increase. Chernobyl, Fukushima.

    Bio tech – now we have tech that can replicate, turning harmless materials from the environment into copies of themselves. If this goes wrong in an uncontained experiment, there’s no guarantee that it will all fade away, break down, die out, eventually. Any damage has the potential to increase, exponentially.

    On this scale of threat assessment, the release into the wild of newly synthesized gene combinations is potentially much more dangerous than all the previous technologies combined, even nuclear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be exploring the field, but that we should only be doing so with great care and attention, not a quick profit-grab heedless of the possible consequences.

    And, since every technology has its “defining” accident, and we haven’t yet seen the GMO accident, anyone care to make predictions what it might be like?



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  • 11
    fadeordraw says:

    So I’m an advocate of GMO food production (increasing food production acreage) and of labelling, including origin of the product, its calories and nutrition. I think the Organic, that metropolitan vogue for food, is like homeopathic medicine; i.e., not evidence/scientific-based. And I agree that the GMO idea that more food to feed the growing population would be counter-productive to where our population needs to go; though starving to reduce population growth is not the answer. What’s key here with GMOs in Western nations, particularly the US, is that the science involved in authorizing the distributing of GMO products is solid. The GMO fear is, ergo, all about the corruption of that scientific process. This fear of the corruption of the “governmental” scientific process in the US maybe perceived as par for the course for that not-trusting-the-government nation, but it is also well spread in Europe. Is the anti-GMO movement basically a not trusting science sentiment? Not trusting the science and governmental oversight of food distribution?



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  • @fadeordraw

    The GMO fear is, ergo, all about the corruption of that scientific process.

    Exactly. Well and clearly stated, and it’s not at all an unfounded fear. Reckless exploitation of new technologies to serve the greed of the already far too wealthy, that’s what’s scary.

    As for “starving to reduce population growth” not being an answer, unfortunately, it is nature’s answer, and will be the only answer unless we become smart enough to manage it another way. Exponential growth meets finite resources. Enter the four horsemen.



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  • fadeordraw #11
    Jul 6, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    Is the anti-GMO movement basically a not trusting science sentiment?

    I think it is following the precautionary principle, given the long track record of false assurances about dangerous products, which have come in a steady stream for decades from the marketing departments of corporations, along with the disregard and lax enforcement of stated safety procedures.

    Not trusting the science and governmental oversight of food distribution?

    Th misleading propaganda and disinformation regularly fed to the media and by GMO proponents, does nothing to help their cause with the more perceptive and biologically educated.

    The link to the other thread @#2 points out the nature of this very article – Namely that it is trying to use the authority of “Laureates” to support GMO promotion – but when I look at their qualifications, I find a general absence of qualifications in relevant subjects related to that issue!

    Physicists and medics really are unlikely to be experts on agriculture or ecology!



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  • OHooligan #10
    Jul 6, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    And, since every technology has its “defining” accident, and we haven’t yet seen the GMO accident, anyone care to make predictions what it might be like?

    In monetary terms, it could be accidentally creating a new invasive species with no natural controls or predators. –
    Possibly a vogorous growing plant with genetically built in immunity to herbicides, and built in insecticide which makes it immune to insect damage.
    It could even produce toxins which kill competing plants.
    These are the sorts of features being looked at to “improve” crop production!

    There is already massive a reduction of biodiversity, increase in extinctions, and huge costs, generated by introduced organisms moved from one continent to another by humans.

    https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/economic/us.shtml

    Costly Interlopers: Introduced species of animals, plants and microbes cost the U.S. $123 billion a year (Feb 15, 1999)
    Scientific American.

    The expert warnings have been around for quite some time!!!

    Alternatively it could be some lethal disease organism or gene accidentally included in the GM product.
    Perhaps something with “slow to show symptoms”, like Mad-Cow disease which was transmitted in meat.



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  • 15
    Robert Firth says:

    This article touched a vague memory from some 50 years in the past. And the other day, it surfaced.

    The reference: http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1848212,00.html

    The intro:

    “YOUR DOCTOR WANTS YOU TO SMOKE.

    Vintage propaganda is always fun, but old cigarette ads may be the most cringeworthy. The New York Public Library just opened “Not a Cough in the Car,” an exhibition of tobacco ads that emphasized healthiness. Enjoy.”

    Science for hire is not a new phenomenon. But at least those “doctors” had some expertise in the subject they were lying about.



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  • @alan4

    something with “slow to show symptoms”, like Mad-Cow disease

    I didn’t even begin to mention “slow” disasters. Global Warming, fixed by renaming it “Climate Change”, like that’s any better, being the biggest. The CFC/Ozone hole accident, now slowly on the mend, showing that sometimes things CAN be fixed. Lead in petrol (or gasoline), likewise. Global nicotine addiction, still a work in progress.

    Yes, slow-to-show is going to slip under the watchdogs’ radar, and take a long time to become acknowledged, and another long time to be remedied, and could be the kind of disaster that puts an end to us all, we’re so ill-equipped to recognize such slow moving threats. Live on a volcano, enjoy the fertile soil, and ignore the downside that it will blow up and bury you, one day.

    I didn’t mention Agri-tech disasters either — the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the drying of the Aral Sea due to ill considered irrigation works upstream. I’m sure there are more — Sahara? Australia? Easter Island, for a microcosm?



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  • 17
    fadeordraw says:

    The comments on my pro-GMO comment highlight a non-confidence in the government-based food regulated and distribution systems. These work fine, with the odd minor hiccup, which we’re all over when they occur. The science in food production is really good. The fear thing with GMO produce is more complex and interesting. The trust in governance is a particular perspective in the US, where the trust is so minimal as to beget an individual gun culture. In Europe, the GMO fear is likely rooted in their traditional, subsidized and protected, farming; not that the US would ever be like that. The point is, a trust in science, in evidence-based findings, rather than vogue or vogue fears, needs to prevail. In Canada, among several other countries, we have confidence that our food distribution regulatory and oversight systems will prevail. They’ll screw-up from time to time, and get caught, but major death catastrophe, thanks to their scientific diligence, has not been and will never be at issue.



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  • Neodarwinian #4
    Jul 5, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    I think Golden Rice should be able to pass even your strict ecological standards Alan.

    It looks like it could in some circumstances.

    I have said before, I am not opposed to GM per-se, but as long as corporations keep making exaggerated claims about its benefits, try to monopolise agricultural production, take a cavalier approach to experimentation, and recklessly oppose regulation, I will use my knowledge and critical thinking, to keep knocking them down.



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