Development and environment groups dismiss Owen Paterson's claim.
But the GM lobby is getting behind the UK's Environment Secretary Golden Rice propaganda, getting their numbers and cronies out in support.
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WHAT PATERSON SAYS: Opponents of GM crops in Africa and Asia are "wicked", according to Owen Paterson, and are potentially condemning millions of people to a premature death by opposing Golden Rice. Paterson says that groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth that oppose GM are "casting a dark shadow over attempts to feed the world."
According to The Independent, Greenpeace and other environmental groups have dismissed Paterson's claims as misleading and as "oversimplifying the actual problems in combating vitamin A deficiency" and they say he is "diverting attention from other, more effective solutions".
MORE REACTIONS: Louise Payton, policy officer at the Soil Association, has commented, "This is a classic case where the social nature of a health problem is overlooked by scientists excited by the prospect of delivering a miraculous 'quick fix'. We could have cured all [Vitamin A deficiency related] blindness in developing countries years ago if only the money, publicity and research effort that has gone into Golden Rice over the last 20 years had gone into proven ways of curing the Vitamin A deficiency that causes blindness. We know this because over this period Vitamin A deficiency has dropped dramatically in the Philippines as a result of using these proven methods."
This is an excellent point. See the figures on the dramatic drop in Michael Hansen's article:
And see the charts showing the dramatic decline at the bottom of this page:
The World Development Movement (WDM), which campaigns against the root causes of poverty and inequality, have released a statement which questions Paterson's motives and mandate to comment on what they say is a development issue:
"Owen Paterson has grabbed the headlines again, this time for accusing environmental groups opposed to GM crops of being 'wicked', potentially condemning millions of people in the global south to premature death.
"Before even considering the claim, we should consider who is making it. Paterson is the head of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). He doesn’t work in international development. So why this concern for citizens of developing countries? It turns out that Defra, along with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for International Development (DfID) have a joint ‘agricultural technology’ strategy which is very much about promoting UK agribusiness interests – including in new markets overseas – and very little about (in fact, diametrically opposed to) a just and sustainable food system.
"If we were concerned about a food system which prioritised people’s need, we would need a radically different distribution of power and resources. As we all know, there’s more than enough food to feed the world’s population – the problem is access. Malnutrition in the global south is almost exclusively a result of people’s inability to access enough food, or a sufficiently varied diet. The way to solve it is to improve incomes – not to hand power to the multinationals that already control our food system, further squeezing producers and forcing them into an industrial monoculture production that posits Golden Rice as a solution rather than a problem. Already 10 companies control three-quarters of the global seed market, and the current drive for more GM is only likely to result in further concentration.
"But don’t take it from an NGO. On Saturday, opponents of corporate control of food and seeds took part in demonstrations on every continent. Marches or protests were held in over 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, from Ghana and Kenya to Bolivia and Indonesia. This is not about western NGOs pushing an anti-GM line: farmers themselves in the global south are mobilising to reject GM because it means greater agribusiness control over seeds. Pro-corporate legislation is restricting farmers’ rights to breed and exchange seed adapted to their local environment (crucial in the face of climate change) and instead forcing them to purchase new seed each year.
"African groups reject the agribusiness-friendly initiatives supported by northern governments, such as the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and the Gates-sponsored AGRA ('Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa') which is handing control of their food systems over to multinationals at the expense of the small-scale producers who feed most of the world’s population. Without a change in direction from the UK government and its allies, we can expect to see more poverty and malnutrition on a global scale, not less."
Friends of the Earth director of policy and campaigns Craig Bennett said:
"Some of the greatest threats to food security include climate change, soil degradation, and a lack of agricultural diversity – and it is highly doubtful that more intensive forms of agriculture such as GM crops will deliver on these issues for farmers or food supply.
"Friends of the Earth is not campaigning on golden rice. We are putting our effort into campaigning for tried and tested measures that have been shown to deliver real solutions for farmers and nutrition - such as boosting yields by protecting soils, better water management and affordable access to seeds.
"What could be termed as wicked is a Minister who turns a blind eye to evidence of the very real threat of climate change on food security and the world’s children, and instead puts his faith in unproven silver bullet measures."