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THERE are about eight million reasons why Greenpeace should be charged with a crime against humanity.
That’s the number of people, all of them children, who have died as a result of vitamin A deficiency and could have been saved if Greenpeace had not blocked their access to golden rice. Many more have become blind.
Golden rice, named for its yellow appearance similar to saffron rice, has been genetically modified to contain beta-carotene, the source of vitamin A. Regular white rice does not provide this vital nutrient and with three billion people reliant on rice, there are many cases of deficiency. A study reported in the British medical journal The Lancet estimates that, in total, vitamin A deficiency kills 668,000 children under the age of five each year.
A single bowl of golden rice can supply 60 per cent of a child's daily requirement of vitamin A.
In a few months it will be available for planting to farmers in the Philippines. Bangladesh and Indonesia have indicated they are ready to accept golden rice in the wake of the Philippines' decision and other nations, including India, are considering planting it.
Golden rice could have been grown as long ago as 1999, but its development and cultivation have been vehemently opposed by campaigners who have flatly refused to accept that it could deliver enough vitamin A and who argued that it would turn farmers in the developing world into tools of global capitalism.
Chief among these campaigners has been Greenpeace.
In fact, all rights to golden rice were relinquished long ago and nobody, apart from farmers, will make money out of it. But that is not enough for Greenpeace. In their view, once you start allowing genetically modified (GM) crops, even free ones that save lives, it’s a downhill slide.
Even now its opposition is continuing. In its latest statement, Greenpeace says golden rice is “neither needed nor necessary,” and calls instead for supplementation and fortification, which are described as “cost-effective".
Apparently this means handing out vitamin pills.
Just a few months ago some researchers published a nutritional study showing the beta-carotene in golden rice is easily absorbed. They carried out the study among children in China. Greenpeace immediately called it a scandal and accused the researchers of using the children as guinea pigs. The Chinese government reacted by sacking the three Chinese co-authors of the study.
Greenpeace now calls golden rice a “failure,” because it “has been in development for almost 20 years and has still not made any impact on the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency".
That failure is due almost entirely to relentless opposition to GM foods by Greenpeace and other well off Westerners far removed from the risks of actual vitamin A deficiency.
In the 20-odd years in which GM crops have been grown, there have been no documented human health effects from them. Even the oft-repeated claim of harm to Monarch butterflies has been shown to be negligible.
So finally golden rice is set to be grown in countries where it will save lives. But for the eight million children who died from vitamin A deficiency while it was coming, it is too late.
A crime against humanity is defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to include extermination when knowingly committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population. An attack might include denial of life-saving measures.
Greenpeace has been openly denying the benefits of golden rice for at least 15 years, with utter disregard for the science and in full knowledge of the impact of vitamin A deficiency.
The consequences have been catastrophic - and it is time Greenpeace was held accountable.
David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 years. He may be contacted at email@example.com