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Nobel Laureates Challenge Greenpeace Anti-GMO Campaign

FILE - An agriculturist prepares to plant Golden Rice seedlings, grown from genetically modified rice grains, at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Laguna, south of Manila in the Philippines, Aug. 14, 2013.

More than 100 Nobel Prize winners are calling on Greenpeace and other environmental activist groups to cease their opposition to genetically modified foods, saying they pose no danger to health and can even be beneficial.

The group — which includes scholars from varied disciplines such as medicine, economics, literature, chemistry and physics — is set to present an open letter to Greenpeace on Thursday in Washington, D.C. In it, the group says Greenpeace should stop opposing development of a genetically engineered type of rice that supporters say could reduce vitamin deficiencies that cause blindness and death.

The Nobel laureates say Greenpeace and its allies "should re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops improved through biotechnology," and respect the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies.

Golden Rice was designed to counteract vitamin A deficiencies.
Golden Rice was designed to counteract vitamin A deficiencies.

The type of rice they are talking about is known as Golden Rice. It was designed to counteract vitamin A deficiencies that affect children, in particular. The Nobel laureates note in their letter that vitamin A deficiency has the greatest impact on impoverished people in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Greenpeace criticism, GMO praise

Speaking Wednesday to the Washington Post, organizer Richard Roberts — 1993 Nobel laureate in physiology and medicine — said Greenpeace's opposition to GMOs is "anti-science." He said Greenpeace and some of its allies "deliberately went out of their way to scare people" about genetically modified crops, as a way to raise money for their cause.

Roberts said he supports Greenpeace on many of its other activities, but said "this is an issue that they got wrong."

In their letter, the Nobel winners say, "Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than, those derived from any other means of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption."

Furthermore, fact sheets distributed with the letter say genetically modified crops can reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture by 37 percent, increase crop yields by 22 percent, and increase farming income by 68 percent.

Greenpeace, which has called genetically modified foods a form of "genetic pollution," has not commented on the letter.