Nobel Laureates’ Letter Supporting Precision Agriculture

Genetically modified foods are one the most misunderstood scientific processes of our day. The world’s leading research organisations have shown that there is no scientific basis for the moral panic over GMOs. Billions of people eat foods that have been enhanced or otherwise modified every day – without problems or objections, mostly because people are unaware of what GMOs are and how the science works. From the humble carrot to new developments like Golden Rice, designed to address vitamin and food shortages, GMOs have long been a part of our food supply.

A letter signed by over 100 Nobel Laureates addresses a Greenpeace campaign against Golden Rice, a food source that the United Nations and international scientists have endorsed as an important way to address vitamin A deficiency in developing nations.

“Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia.

“The World Health Organisation estimates that 250 million people, suffer from VAD, including 40 percent of the children under five in the developing world. Based on UNICEF statistics, a total of one to two million preventable deaths occur annually as a result of VAD, because it compromises the immune system, putting babies and children at great risk. VAD itself is the leading cause of childhood blindness globally affecting 250,000 – 500,000 children each year. Half die within 12 months of losing their eyesight.”

Background on Golden Rice

Much of the opposition to GMOs, and Golden Rice specifically is due to poor scientific literacy. A study by the Pew Research Centre finds that 88% of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science understand that GMOs are safe, compared with only 37% of the public, who have a limited understanding of the science.

Professor Ingo Potrykus addresses the science and emotional backlash over Golden Rice. Note he has given away the patent.

“Golden rice fulfils all the wishes the GMO opposition had earlier expressed in their criticism of the use of the technology, and it thus nullifies all the arguments against genetic engineering with plants in this specific example. Golden rice has not been developed by or for industry. It fulfils an urgent need by complementing traditional interventions. It presents a sustainable, cost-free solution, not requiring other resources. It avoids the unfortunate negative side effects of the Green Revolution. Industry does not benefit from it. Those who benefit are the poor and disadvantaged. It is given free of charge and restrictions to subsistence farmers.”

From an earlier Science on Google+ Community discussion, via our moderator Professor Rajini Rao:

“Golden Rice technology is based on the simple principle that rice plants possess the whole machinery to synthesise β-carotene, and while this machinery is fully active in leaves, parts of it are turned off in the grain. By adding only two genes, a plant phytoene synthase (psy) and a bacterial phytoene desaturase (crt I), the pathway is turned back on and β-carotene consequently accumulates in the grain. Beta carotene is the more “natural”, safer, bioavailable precursor to Vit A. The same compound in carrots.”

The World Health Organisation, the European Commission, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, seven of the world’s science academies, and various other science organisations have endorsed the technology and found no safety issues.

Learn more

The letter

Image, from the Genetic Literacy Project, with more resources on GMOs and Golden Rice

A reminder that Science on Google+ is a science community and that we support the science of GMOs:

WHO publications on GMOs:

Richard Green on the scientific consensus of GMOs

The science and safety of GMOs

Misinformation about GMOs dispelled by an analytical chemist

First published for Science on Google+