What if one of the biggest problems in the developing world was a lack of vitamin A?  And what if you could engineer a crop that was a staple in most of that world that would provide sufficient vitamin A to prevent certain diseases, conditions and death:

Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

You’d be a hero right?  You’d be hailed as someone who has vastly improved the lives and chances for millions.

Unless you ask Greenpeace.

Greenpeace, for one, dismisses the benefits of vitamin supplementation through G.M.O.’s and has said it will continue to oppose all uses of biotechnology in agriculture. As Daniel Ocampo, a campaigner for the organization in the Philippines, put it, “We would rather err on the side of caution.”

How will they “err on the side of caution?”  By denying you a choice:

One bright morning this month, 400 protesters smashed down the high fences surrounding a field in the Bicol region of the Philippines and uprooted the genetically modified rice plants growing inside.

Had the plants survived long enough to flower, they would have betrayed a distinctly yellow tint in the otherwise white part of the grain. That is because the rice is endowed with a gene from corn and another from a bacterium, making it the only variety in existence to produce beta carotene, the source of vitamin A. Its developers call it “Golden Rice.”

The concerns voiced by the participants in the Aug. 8 act of vandalism — that Golden Rice could pose unforeseen risks to human health and the environment, that it would ultimately profit big agrochemical companies — are a familiar refrain in the long-running controversy over the merits of genetically engineered crops. They are driving the desire among some Americans for mandatory “G.M.O.” labels on food with ingredients made from crops whose DNA has been altered in a laboratory. And they have motivated similar attacks on trials of other genetically modified crops in recent years: grapes designed to fight off a deadly virus in France, wheat designed to have a lower glycemic index in Australia, sugar beets in Oregon designed to tolerate a herbicide, to name a few.

“We do not want our people, especially our children, to be used in these experiments,” a farmer who was a leader of the protest told the Philippine newspaper Remate.

Instead, they prefer the children who aren’t as well off as theirs go blind or die from preventible conditions or diseases.

Those that oppose this cite “big Agriculture” as one reason to oppose GMO. But this isn’t a product of “Big Ag”:

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population.

And besides, they claim, there are other foods these people can eat and, as usual, provide a overly simple answer to a complex problem:

” … critics who suggest encouraging poor families to simply eat fruits and vegetables that contain beta carotene disregard the expense and logistical difficulties that would thwart such efforts.

The controversy over golden rice typifies the arguments in general about genetically modified crops.  Rife with agendas and politics, short on actual scientific fact:

“There’s so much misinformation floating around about G.M.O.’s that is taken as fact by people,” said Michael D. Purugganan, a professor of genomics and biology and the dean for science at New York University, who sought to calm health-risk concerns in a primer on GMA News Online, a media outlet in the Philippines: “The genes they inserted to make the vitamin are not some weird manufactured material,” he wrote, “but are also found in squash, carrots and melons.”

Mr. Purugganan, who studies plant evolution, does not work on genetically engineered crops, and until recently had not participated in the public debates over the risks and benefits of G.M.O.’s. But having been raised in a middle-class family in Manila, he felt compelled to weigh in on Golden Rice. “A lot of the criticism of G.M.O.’s in the Western world suffers from a lack of understanding of how really dire the situation is in developing countries,” he said.

Some proponents of G.M.O.’s say that more critical questions, like where biotechnology should fall as a priority in the efforts to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition and how to prevent a few companies from controlling it, would be easier to address were they not lumped together with unfounded fears by those who oppose G.M.O.’s.

“It is long past time for scientists to stand up and shout, ‘No more lies — no more fear-mongering,’ ” said Nina V. Fedoroff, a professor at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia and a former science adviser to the American secretary of state, who helped spearhead the petition. “We’re talking about saving millions of lives here.”

The anti-GMO crowd, led by Greenpeace, doesn’t really care about that.  In fact, they’re modern day Luddites.  And, ironically, they’re all about denying you choice in what you want to consume.  The simple solution to all of this is to refuse to consume genetically modified crops if one opposes or fears them.  In reality, what others choose to consume is really none of  Greenpeace’s business, is it?

~McQ

Blogging at QandO