ECOLOGIST Patrick Moore doesn’t talk about the value of genetically modified (GM) crops per se, preferring to focus on campaigning for the immediate introduction of one key GM variety – the vitamin A enhanced Golden Rice – for its potential humanitarian benefits.
Greenpeace co-founder Dr Moore - bitterly estranged from the group for decades - and his brother Michael Moore, with their wives and five children, have established the non-profit Allow Golden Rice Society to counter Greenpeace’s blocking of the product’s market approval.
“No one was campaigning for Golden Rice before we came along,” the Canadian campaigner told Fairfax Agricultural Media on his recent tour of Australia.
“Scientists were talking about it, but no one was demonstrating in front of a Greenpeace office saying ‘you’re guilty of a crime against humanity because eight million children have died because of your opposition to Golden Rice’.
'A crime against humanity'
Dr Moore said other organisations which denounce Golden Rice, by claiming it negatively impacts human health and the environment, were also “guilty of a crime against humanity”.
If Golden Rice provided a cure for Ebola or malaria rather than vitamin A deficiency, it would have been approved almost immediately, he said. Instead, the crop’s development has been held up for 15 years and is continuing to suffer delays because “apparently” it doesn’t generate sufficient yields.
“They’re afraid to let it out now, if it can’t compete with commercial crops, but why don’t they subsidise it then?” he said.
“Right now they’re spending $1 per pill for vitamin A pills to be distributed to millions of people. UNICEF is spending nearly $1 billion a year on vitamin A tablets and still more than one million kids are dying every year.
“But with bio-fortification the nutrient is already in the food, right off the farm. With normal fortification, adding vitamin A to milk or adding iodine to salt, it has to go through a factory for that to happen,” he said.
“Vitamin A deficiency kills more children than malaria, AIDS or tuberculosis. It’s the biggest killer of children in the whole world - and yet we’ve got a cure for it and it’s not allowed to be used.
“If we had a cure for Ebola it’d be used tomorrow morning… even with any side effects, it would still be better than dying.
“Ebola has killed less than 5000 people but vitamin A deficiency kills 6000 children a day, so how could anybody argue with Golden Rice?” he said.
Greenpeace claims Golden Rice is not a sustainable cure for vitamin A deficiency because it encourages over-reliance on a rice-based diet.
They also claim Golden Rice is being used as a 'Trojan Horse' by GM proponents to soften public opinion on the technology.
But Dr Moore said Greenpeace’s campaign to block Golden Rice is form of insanity, “because dead children by the millions are piling up on account of what they’ve done”.
“Greenpeace says Golden Rice may have unknown health and environmental effects and they scare politicians and regulators and everybody with this stuff,” he said.
“That means the people who are trying to bring it forward must get every 't' crossed and every 'i' dotted just perfectly, because if they get stalled in the regulatory process, they get stalled forever.
“That’s just like that AquaBounty salmon that grows twice as fast as normal salmon which the bad guys call ‘Franken-fish’.”
GM crops not designed for harm
Dr Moore said the Allow Golden Rice Society had now reached 35 million people by spreading a positive message through the media.
He claimed the society had also “completely changed the media’s tone on the issue of Golden Rice”, with its Canadian members also touring Europe to campaign.
Dr Moore said environmental concerns about GM technology were misguided, and “no other environmental issue is based on nothing, in the way of evidence, of any kind of harm”.
“The only GM work that’s being done is to improve things,” he said.
“It’s not being done to make things worse or to harm something; it’s being done to improve the crop.”
Dr Moore said one of the reasons his campaign was “so powerful” was the specific focus on Golden Rice.
“We’re not trying to convince everybody about the whole GM thing. We’re not into (GM) labelling and we don’t even care about it, because no one’s going to care if Golden Rice is labelled or not.”
One of the catch-22s in the GM situation, he said, was that the seed company’s customer was not the consumer buying the food in the store.
“Their customer is the farmer, and so it was logical for them to do improvements that were beneficial to the growing of the crop. But now that they’ve got on their feet and profits are coming in from Bt and Roundup Ready GM varieties, they should be getting something on the market that is clearly aimed at consumer benefits,” he said.
“And my number one example of that is Golden Rice, which is now a humanitarian project.”
Dr Moore said fallout from Greenpeace’s destruction of GM wheat research field trials at CSIRO in Canberra in 2011 triggered a change in the activist group's tactics.
It now recruits “urban politicos” to conduct acts of civil disobedience against GM crops, such as the Golden Rice protests in the Philippines, rather than attach the brand to destructive acts.
Asked what it would take for Greenpeace to acknowledge the science and potential humanitarian benefits of Golden Rice, Dr Moore said: “They never will”.
“How could you not agree with Golden Rice?” he said.