Path of destruction and collateral damage
The final chapter of the Hawaiian anti-GE story has not been written, but stories like it are being penned around the globe. Both sides offer fierce debate. Agricultural scientists like Gonsalves who are trying to solve local problems using modern science, are confronted with misinformation from individuals and well-funded global organizations. The Greenpeace website, for example, states the release of GE crops in the environment is “genetic pollution” and can be a “threat to human and environmental health.” Greenpeace was reported to have pumped nearly $100 million into a campaign to prevent commercialization in India of GE insect-resistant eggplant. Without this GE eggplant, which expresses the Bt protein promoted in Silent Spring, growers often spray up to 80 times per season with a combination of powerful insecticides. The government in Bangladesh has ignored Greenpeace’s anti-GE campaign.
In 2014, the Bangladesh government approved the release of Bt eggplant to farmers where it has so far worked effectively, despite a campaign of misinformation to the contrary. Greenpeace also has a campaign against Golden Rice, a GE product now in field trials that is designed to produce beta carotene to combat Vitamin A deficiency, the cause of blindness in children throughout the developing world. Patrick Moore, one of the Greenpeace’s founders, has protested Greenpeace’s stiff opposition to GE crops and, as he says, the movement away from “science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism.”
Moore is not alone in his conversion from anti-GE activist to pro-GE advocate. Mark Lynas shocked the audience at the January 2013 Oxford Farming Conference when he apologized for engaging in vandalism of European GE field trials and said, “I was still penning screeds in The Guardian attacking the science of GM — even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science…” Lynas has since criticized organizations with which he was previously associated, including Greenpeace and organic trade groups like the U.K. Soil Association, for ignoring scientific facts about genetically modified crop safety and its benefits because it conflicted with their ideologies. He now says, “I was completely wrong to oppose GMOs.”
Golden Rice, and the dozens of other GE products being developed by public sector scientists in research institutions around the world, may never become publicly available because of misinformation that permeates the media. The misinformation results in laws and public policy against GE crops. For the time being, crops like PRSV papaya, Golden Rice, and Bt eggplant are just some examples of the collateral damage occurring in the global debate about biotechnology. Scientists like Miyasaka are challenged, and often insulted, when they try to get their pro-biotech messages across to the general public. In contrast, anti-biotech groups in Hawaii like Babes Against Biotech, Surfers Against GMOs, GMO-Free Hawaii, Greenpeace, and individuals like Jeffrey Smith, are spreading their misinformation widely.