Sit down, because this will be a long one. You will now hear what an independent viewer, meaning I don’t work for any company nor am I a Greenpeace activist, has to say about this all GMO and Greenpeace debate.
But yes, you heard me right.
Greenpeace, the so-called environmental and super friendly non-profit organization, is in fact perhaps committing the biggest crime of the 21st Century.
“Why?”, you may ask so. It’s actually pretty simple. All goes around a subject which is known by the name of ‘Golden Rice’.
Golden Rice, as the Golden Rice Project organization states, it’s a variety of rice (which is not owned by any company), product of the meticulous work of thousands of scientists that joined forces to produce, through genetic engineering methods, a variety of rice that is capable of biosynthesize beta-carotene, which is in turn transformed in our bodies into vitamin A. But why the need of having rice producing beta-carotene? Can’t we obtain vitamin A from other sources? What’s the point?
You see my dear reader, the problem is that in the poorest parts of the world there is an extremely concerning shortage of dietary vitamin A. Why so? Precisely because these populations just eat rice, which lacks beta-carotene. They have no financial means nor even access to food that is able to deliver the need for vitamin A to these populations, such as meat, fish or cheese. The main goal of the Golden rice project is to deliver biofortified rice to these households. The fact that the major part (if not all) of the calorie diary intake is acquired from rice makes it the perfect food target to deliver these lacking vitamins to these populations. For instance, nutrient and vitamin deficiency is the cause of blindness in almost half-million children every year.
As a matter of fact, deficiency of vitamin A in these populations is so dramatic that is estimated to kill 670,000 children under the age of 5 each year, according to a study made in 2008 by Black RE et al. Adding to these numbers, shortage of vitamin A is also responsible to kill up to 2 million people per year, due to the fact that low levels of vitamin A cause weakening of the immune system, therefore making these people highly subjective to contract disease, from which they would otherwise survive provided they had access to vitamin A sources.
So, what’s the problem? If we have a problem and a solution, why isn’t the problem being solved? With golden rice one is basically providing a source of vitamin A without really changing the alimentar habits of these populations. It sounds like the perfect solution! So, what’s the deal?
The deal is called Greenpeace.
Greenpeace argues that GE Golden rice it’s highly dangerous to these populations, provided the fact that it is a genetically modified product and that its consumption doesn’t really represent a way of solving the problem, while representing dangerous harm to these people’s health.
Yes, Golden Rice it’s a GMO.
And this is where most people will probably stop reading.
But before you do that, allow yourself to be educated (because fear towards GMOs is really no more than the product of lack of information) and let me dismistify what in fact the word GMO means:
Genetic Engineering is used in many fields and therefore GMOs are used in many medical applications. They range from pharmaceutical products, such as the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine, to the production of artificial insulin from E. Coli, which is used to treat diabetes. Although the use of GMOs for medical applications seems to be quite well accepted by society, one can not say the same thing when the subject changes to using genetic engineering for food applications. But why is it so if they are the exact same thing?
To try to explain you what a GMO is allow me first to give you a brief insight on basic molecular biology.
Just imagine yourself casually driving your car back home on a day after work. You turn on the radio, but you realize that none of your favorite radio stations is playing your favorite songs or artists. So you just get yourself one of your CDs and play it on the car CD player. Although CDs have different records, songs and artists, they are all CDs, this is, in spite of having different information stored on them, they are all CDs and they can all be read by the same CD player, which happens to be in your car. This is easy to perceive, right?
You see, humans and all living organisms are exactly the same.
The way you look, the way you sound, the way you behave, everything is due to the information that is stored in your genes, which happens to be basically in the form of DNA.
To put it on a different way, it’s like we are all CDs that can be read by the same radio player, we just have different songs imprinted in our records, and that’s what makes person A different from person B. But, you know that different songs are still made from the same musical notes, because music is universal, the notes are just arranged in different ways, sequences and times and that’s what makes the songs different. That’s why you have hard rock songs from AC/DC and Pop music songs from artists like Madonna. They all used the same blocks of information (musical notes) to build their songs, but the arrangement they made with those blocks just led them to completely different results. It’s the exact same thing with DNA. DNA, like music, is universal, and can be read and understood by any organism. The CD players that are capable of reading these molecules are called Polymerases. If the cell wants to make another identical molecule of DNA, she will use a CD player called DNA Polymerase. If the cell, for example, wants to make a protein, she will use a CD player called RNA Polymerase. And a tomato RNA polymerase can read my DNA as it can read yours, because even though we have different traits when compared to other species, the blocks that built the information to make us different are still exactly the same! DNA is the universal biological language and it can be read by every single being in the exact same way! Just like music! All organisms are made of DNA sequences. It’s like building completely different houses, ones more sophisticated than the others, but still with the exact same concrete! Isn’t this amazing?
The chemical nature of the information is exactly the same for every single organism on Earth. The building-blocks that make up DNA are called nucleobases and there are 4 types of nucleobases, which are the same for every single existing form of life. A, which stands for Adenine, C, which stands for Cytosine, G for Guanine and T for Thymine. Yes, you heard my right, only 4 different building-blocks! We can even consider music to be more complex than the code of life, since there are much more musical notes than there are nucleobases. However, these 4 nucleobases can be arranged in different manners, giving billions and billions of different possible combinations and sequences. I have an A, a G, a T and a C, as an ant as an A, a G, a T and a C, as a bacteria as an A, a G, a T and a C, as corn crop as an A, a G, a T and a C.
Nucleobases are then read by RNA Polymerases (one of our CD players) on a process known as transcription. These RNA Polymerases (RNAPs) read our DNA genes and produce a primary transcript called messenger RNA (mRNA). This RNA molecule is basically a copy of the gene in another biological language almost identical to the DNA code, the ‘RNA code’, This mRNA will serve as a carrier for the information on the DNA genes to another CD player called the ‘Ribosome’. Ribosomes are where the ‘serious business’ happens. They are responsible to translate the DNA message within our genes and carried by the RNA transcripts into proteins. It’s texting someone. The information o your text would be the DNA gene and the interpretation that the person who’s reading your text gets from your message would be the protein. But you cannot without internet nor phone service, right? The mRNA transcript would be our ‘phone service’. Without it, the message in our genes cannot be delivered to produce proteins, for example. The ribosome will then scavenge trough the mRNA transcript looking for the best place to attach to it. Once attached, the Ribosome will translate all the information within the mRNA transcript into polypeptide chains which will eventually form a protein. Proteins are then used by cells in a variety of functions.
This two-step process of transcription and translation is transversal to any living organism on Earth.
Do you get it now? We all have the exactly same mechanisms and blocks of information, the difference between you and me is that this information is arranged in a different way, but when you compare your code sequence to mine you will find that it’s, obviously, arranged in a more similar manner than when you compare your code to a tomato. If a tomato has a gene whose sequence is AGCC and which is responsible to code for a protein that makes tomato resistant to drought (this is just an example) what science can do is to take this sequence from tomato and introduce it into the song of ‘The DNA of Corn fields’ turning it into the song of ‘The DNA of Corn fields that don’t dry out’. And this is basically what a GMO is.
You see now? How can this be dangerous? It’s the exact same nucleobases. You already have those nucleobases in your body! It’s not like those nucleobases are from tomatoes and just from tomatoes and if you are not a tomato you will die. It’s not like that. Think that, instead of introducing a segment ‘already made’ of AGCC, I could have just picked up four nucleobases already on corn and build the exact same sequence of AGCC.
Or, better if you want, just imagine picking up a TTTT sequence on corn’s DNA and change it to A*TTT. It’s the exact same thing as changing a musical note in a song. Just changing a position of a base on your own DNA sounds much less dangerous, right? Because it’s already your own? But what if, instead of generating a thousand of changes in my DNA and wait (and hope) that will give me a gene that codes for drought resistance, why don’t I just introduce it from another organism, which I already know of and which I have already studied the effects and products? They might come from different places but they are exactly similar and they will be read by the Polymerases in the exact same way. If this gene produces insulin in organism A, it will produce insulin in organism B, because the sequence and, therefore, the information is still the same. It’s not because we transferred a gene that produces beta-carotene in organism A to rice that now this gene will magically start to produce some sort of venom in rice crops that will kill you. The gene and the information is exactly the same, we just changed it from one room to another. We know exactly what the gene does and we know, for instance, that beta-carotene is not harmful, it’s actually essential to your body and humans face severe health conditions when they don’t ingest enough beta-carotene.
In the end of the day it’s literally and exactly the same. It’s not that an AGCC sequence has a paper label saying “hey!, I’m a tomato gene”. That would be the same thing as saying that the binary code sequence of 10111 can only be read by a MacBook Pro, when we know that binary code can be read and interpreted in the same way by every single computer machine. Saying that 10111 is a code line just for Macs is extremely silly to say.
However, I’m just imagining that you could be thinking, “okey, but why would I want to change a single base pair in my DNA? Even though it’s my own DNA, wouldn’t that be dangerous for me? Wouldn’t that kill me or give me an extra arm or super vision?”
Well, sorry to disappoint you, but changing a base-pair, deleting or introducing longer pieces of DNA won’t really give you an extra arm or X-ray vision and surely won’t kill you either. This process is actually much more common than you might think and base changes, for instance, happen all the time in your body. You probably have millions of those changes happening right now!
We call it mutations! Another scary word, right?
But what really the word ‘mutation’ means is that we have a DNA sequence of AGCC and by some random process, one of the bases, for example, turns out to be changed (AT*CC). But do you want to hear an interesting fact? If you have blues you are a GMO in a broad sense. Yes! If you have blue eyes you are a mutant, like the ones you see on Marvel or D.C.. You are a mutant and you carry a mutation on the set of genes that code for the color of your eyes, which made them go from brown to blue. You are literally a genetic modified organism. A GMO. Are you toxic then? Should we throw you away and get the world rid of this horrible mutation that is ‘blue eyes’?
And do you remember when I said before that we could also generate “a thousand of changes in my DNA and wait (and hope) that will give me a gene that codes for drought resistant”? But how would I accomplish this? Let me explain you this with an example given by the great Charles Darwin in chapter I of the On the Origin of Species: the cultivation of the pear.
As Darwin mentions, based on Pliny’s description, the pear, though cultivated in classical times, appears to have been a fruit of very inferior quality, with very bad look and taste. However, that’s kinda hard to imagine, given the fact the we all know that the pear is quite an enjoyable and very suitable fruit to eat. So, how came an inferior fruit, which was found to have very bad taste and aspect, ending up being an highly appreciated fruit? The answers lies on us. We did it. We changed this fruit in such a manner that we completely transformed it when compared to its primordial form and, by doing so, we eradicated its pre-domestic state. Dogs, for example. We’ve always heard that they descend from wolves. And this is absolutely true. Over thousand of years, farmers, sometimes on a conscious way, sometimes almost unconsciously, have been selecting the crops that originate from the best seeds and mating the best individuals to generate better progeny. How so? Imagine yourself being a ‘ancient’ farmer surrounded by very bad looking and untasty pears. You occasionally find a very beautiful pear and another one that has a very tasty flavour. What farmers did was to select the seeds originated from these two fruits with better quality and crossbreed them (it means to mate two individuals) to generate progeny according to their desire of having a better fruit. This is an example of conscious selection. An example of unconscious selection would be if the farmers, in these process of selection, happened to choose seeds from a pear which was not only tasty, but that was also big in size. It wasn’t their desire to select a big pear, however since this trait was also on an individual carrying the trait they wanted to select, they ended up adding this mutation to the final product that is the pear that we know of today, without really aiming to do so. They did it unconsciously.
This process of constantly selecting the best mutations and crossbreed them to generate better offspring is called artificial selection. He had a pear which lacked quality, pretty much how today we have rice that lacks vitamin A, and we transformed it in such manner that we completely changed it’s ‘natural’ form of occurring in Nature, to a better and improved version. In other words, we genetically modified it. The pre-domesticated form of the pear has nothing to do with the one we so well know today. And we have been genetically modifying crops and animals since the dawn of ages. Wheat itself is another widely known example of a genetically modified organism. We’ve been eating GMOs all this time and nobody has died for it.
Although having this said, you might still think “Fine, but these genetic modifications and these genetic organisms originated by themselves and therefore it’s not dangerous to consume a product like this”.
Well, what have I been saying here all along? The code is exactly the same! If I crossbreed two individuals over time, like in artificial selection, I would have achieved the same exact result! There is absolutely no biological difference between the product generated on method A and the product generated on method B. The only difference is that on A you achieved it by methods of artificial selection, which probably took you thousand of years and substantial amount of luck to generate progeny with the desired trait, while with genetic engineering, the same result took you a couple of years to achieve. Genetic engineering itself it’s actually the evolved form of humans doing artificial selection. On artificial selection, we just wait and select the best crops, which we will crossbreed to give us better pears, for example. With GMO technology you don’t wait, neither you have direct control on the process of mutagenesis (process of generating a mutation), instead you just pick up an existing gene, which you already know what it does, and put it on your pear to generate the desired pear product. You saved thousand of years and you could yourself have solved a world major problem in a small amount of time. This is what the Golden Rice project is trying to do with Golden rice.
Food coming from GMOs crops is no different from food coming from non-GMO crops.
I perceive anti-GMO propaganda more as a faith or religious belief than an actually standing point-of-view based on real arguments.
Do you understand now how tremendously silly you sound every time you say GMOs are bad? How ignorant you look every time you say that you are an anti-GMO activist? It’s awful. Saying that a GMO is bad is the same thing as saying that the white wall is black when it’s clearly white. We are all genetically modified organisms in a broad sense. And everything that walks or exists on earth is genetically modified when compared to its ancestor. We are all GMOs. You are a GMO. Even clones don’t share a 100% similarity with the organism from where their DNA originated from. This is due to the fact that DNA Polymerases are error-prone. And this is exactly why mutations occur. And this is exactly why we are all different. And this is why we evolve. And this is why you should stop arguing about the safety of GMOs or next time, if you have blue eyes, I’ll tell the security guard on the front of your favorite club that you are a very dangerous GMO so he won’t allow you in. Get over it.
It happens the exact same thing with Golden Rice. GR it’s yellow because it’s full of beta-carotene, not because it’s dangerous.
The problem is not really with the concept of Golden rice itself, but with the lack of knowledge about how exactly organisms work in a molecular biology level and of what GMOs are. People don’t act out of logic, they act out of fear, because the media wants you to believe that biotechnology and genetically modifying an organism are man-made processes, when they are in fact just two more amazing processes that make up Nature and Evolution themselves. Nature genetically modifies itself all the time. When people hear the word GMO they immediately associate with toxic bacteria genes that make bananas blue and that are going to kill us or that are going to give us cancer. And credit shall be given, GMO is indeed a scary word. However, I hope now you can yourself have an idea of how stupid it is to think like this. There is not even such thing as ‘bacteria genes’. There are ‘genes from bacteria’. It’s not like bacteria own the genes. It’s the same thing as with music or with binary code.
So why does Greenpeace keep on affirming that GE Golden rice is not safe? Why would the environmental group have such an anti-science and anti-humanitarian policy against what it seems to be a great solution that could end a situation where millions of men women and little children die due to the lack of an essential dietary nutrient?
We now understand that much of this fear and this position against the Golden rice project is due to the fact that GMOs are regarded as bad or toxic products to consume, which, as we have seen, it’s not true at all.
However, to make a good point, one also needs to explore and debate the arguments that are given by Greenpeace against Golden rice usage.
One of the strongest Greenpeace’s arguments is when they refer that GR took 20 years and tens of millions of dollars to create (no idea where this numbers came from), which could have been better invested on more practical and working solutions, providing a much simple and viable solution.
And, I mean, don’t get me wrong, even to me this seems to be absolutely true. But, I mean, lets be honest and think a bit. This argument just dies by itself. We have it now, right? We spent to many resources doing this, whatever you say, but we got the solution, we spent a lot of money as you say, and you are still not using it? Focus on the present. We have a problem and a solution for it. Use it and stop barging about the fact that scientists spent to much money on it. It’s not like Scientists can go back in time and give you the money they spent on the last 20 years. As I said, this argument just dies by itself. You look like babies. Get over it.
Aren’t there millions of dollars being used in the world right now and that are being, as you say, ‘badly’ invested? Why aren’t you barging about those?
But nevertheless, lets just go back twenty years then. Having millions of dollars at your disposal, would we use them to solve this problem? Would this still be enough? Would we use these millions to solve the problem, instead of investing them on Science? You see, governments have a lot money at their disposal and a very little amount of that is directed to Science. What about these other million dollars that don’t go to Science? Why are we not talking about those millions instead? Where did they go to? It’s easy to say that Science is the culprit. These people need more that money then scientists do. And that’s absolutely true. But why Science? Why would we sacrifice and give up on something whose only goal is to actually benefit mankind? What about all the millions that were used for over 20 years to pay the incommensurable high salaries of politicians and so on? It’s easy to make Science the villain and say that these millions would have rather been better invested on directly helping these populations. But, again, what about those millions spent on paying high politician salaries? Wouldn’t they have also been better invested on solving the vitamin A deficiency problem? Besides, it’s not that these millions were spent on some summer vacations in the Azores. As you emphasized, they were actually spent on work which lasted for over 20 years and which, by instance, came up with a solution for the problem.
This is what’s wrong with society. We spend considerable amounts of human and financial resources in the name of Science and progress, so we can develop better medicines, better computers, better food, etc., all things that improve, not only our own quality of life, but that of our children and future generations. We all use it, but still, there are some who keep on saying that spending money on research is not necessary. Such hypocrisy. It looks like one of those arguments given by one of those hardcore anti-Science activists that are completely against spending money on Science, but that then, very ironically, use a cell phone to post all of those vicious anti-science visions on Facebook and Twitter.
Men could never survive without science. Progress is driven by dream, which is delivered by an everlasting desire of improvement. This desire is delivered by Science, We invented the concept ourselves and trying to blame Science for our mistakes conflicts with the most primordial trait of human nature: to achieve progress.
The second given argument is actually a very old one, and it’s not directly related with GE Golden rice, but with GMOs instead, and which is related with the fact that GE Golden rice can easily ‘contaminate’ non-GE rice by inadvertently mixing seeds during processes such as harvesting and transportation. However, I never really got to understand the practical sense of this argument, especially given the fact of knowing about the concept and reality of artificial selection, and that humans have been genetically modifying organisms and spreading them over Nature for millennia. We have done it in the past. We do it in the present. And we will keep doing it in the future. Nevertheless, I really think that this argument also just dies by itself, regarding the fact that we know that Nature is constantly seeking to change itself. Organisms are always evolving and evolution is a natural process. Mutation happens constantly in Nature and it’s a process on which man has absolutely no control. Nature is constantly seeking to improve itself. The grain seed that you are trying to preserve today and that you are trying to protect from GMO contamination, won’t be the same seed that you will have in 5 or even 1 year. As I said, mutations occur all the time and nature at some point, like it does with all living things, will select the best mutations to ‘go on’ and eliminate the ‘old’ ones which have less advantage to reproduce, just like the ‘ancient’ pear. The rice that you will have in 100 or 1000 of years will surely not be the same that you have today, even though you try to absolutely have no influence on the process. Mother Nature is the absolute ruler. Who knows if in a thousand years won’t arise a mutation that gives the ability to rice to biosynthesize beta-carotene, like Golden rice already does today? But still, if getting GE golden rice to spread over nature, if that’s the price to pay to save millions of innocent lives, then I’ll gladly pay that priceAnd that is what you should really consider. Besides, knowing what artificial selection is, I think we should see it more as an opportunity to understand ecosystem dynamics. These different subjects will co-exist together. Yes, it’s not like GE Golden rice will eradicate ‘normal’ rice from the face of the Earth. Golden rice has no reproductive fitness advantage over ‘normal’ rice. Rice is self-pollinated and, as Greenpeace mentions in its website, there is no physical difference between a seed of ‘normal’ rice and a seed of GE Golden rice, meaning that one won’t have more probability to be more dispersed than the other. They will co-exist. But even considering this scenario, I would just like to mention that there are various methods nowadays that have been reveled to be highly efficient in controlling and blocking the dispersion of GMO seeds and grains over nature. It’s not as a big of a problem as Greenpeace wants you to believe.
Another interesting argument is presented in Greenpeace’s video All that glitters is not Gold – The truth about GE Golden rice. An idea is given to the viewer that the major barrier opposing to the introduction of Golden rice as a viable solution for these populations is the mere fact that these population are themselves against the concept of Golden rice and the whole project itself, acting out of fear that the GE crops might be dangerous to their health. This is complemented to the fact that they also mention in their website that is irresponsible to impose GE Golden rice due to its contradictory nature to religious beliefs, culture and sense of identity of these populations. However, this anti-Golden rice argument is again generated due to the lack of knowledge from these people about what a GMO and golden rice really are. Greenpeace has the perfect notion of this and still lets these people live in ignorance.
Not to say that the line stating that is irresponsible to impose GE Golden rice due to its contradictory nature to religious beliefs, culture and sense of identity, just seems to be a very hypocritical, disparaging and even an imperialistic kind of argument. It’s like saying that these people are inferior and not able to accept, understand and go along with change and new ideas. We live in a world made up by Science and, therefore, change. If we were able to adapt to the continuous work and new ways of doing things that science has provided us all over the years, like changing from carrier pigeons to cell phones, why wouldn’t these people be capable of doing the same? Is Greenpeace trying to imply that we are smarter or superior somehow? Saying that these communities cannot accept change or science due to cultural issues is basically treating them as inferior beings, which are not smart enough to understand or embrace science and progress. Shame on you Greenpeace. I’m pretty sure that if these people were given access to some sort of information about what GMOs and Golden rice really are, they would understand and use it as a viable solution. But Greenpeace doesn’t think so.
A letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition against genetically modified organisms and to cease its efforts to block the introduction of Golden rice in developing populations with vitamin A deficiency was signed for more than 100 Nobel prize laureates. Just take it as a hint.
With all of this said, I see no point on keeping on saying that Golden rice is dangerous to these populations, that it doesn’t respect their beliefs or even that it doesn’t comprise a viable solution for the problem. We have thousands of children dying at this very moment, we have a solution for the problem and yet we are not allowed to solve it, because this environmental organization, which by its dimension and influence, should have more responsibility regarding this issue, and cease affirming that Golden rice is not a solution, when it can clearly solve the problem of poverty and starvation that ruins the world. We are facing the biggest crime against mankind and yet we stand quite.
So, I would like to address the following:
It’s easy to be against technology when you walk around with full bellies and children are starving to death. You are preventing mankind to reach its full potential, you are the cancer of a rotten society which lacks for compassion, you represent the hate and the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. You are piled with despicable arrogance and once you realize the proportions of your crime, not even your own selves will give you enough peace to atone for your sins.
Next time one of your children contracts hepatitis B or is need of an insulin injection, let them die, because you are against GMOs right? How hypocritical. You take advantage of GMO technology for your own profit but when the time comes to let this technology help those really in need, you just don’t allow it.
But, once you realize that what you are doing is wrong, nothing will stand on our way, and science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.