Environmental groups fighting against the use of GM crops in Africa and Asia are “wicked” and potentially condemning millions of people to a premature death, the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, says today.
In the strongest attack yet on the anti-GM lobby Mr Paterson told The Independent that NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth that oppose GM technology were “casting a dark shadow over attempts to feed the world”.
And he backed an open letter signed by a group of eminent international scientists calling for the rapid rollout of vitamin A-enhanced rice to help prevent the cause of up to a third of the world’s child deaths.
“It’s just disgusting that little children are allowed to go blind and die because of a hang-up by a small number of people about this technology,” he said. “I feel really strongly about it. I think what they do is absolutely wicked.” Mr Paterson also used the interview to defend the Government’s badger cull, to prevent bovine TB, and criticise animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA that have opposed it.
“I cannot understand anyone wanting to tolerate this disgusting disease,” he said. “I find it incomprehensible that these badger groups don’t see that this is a horrendous disease for the badgers themselves.”
His comments on GM reflect the increasing concern of African and Asian Governments as well as scientists at the influence of Western NGOs in opposing GM crops in the third world. In August, a crop of “golden rice” that been developed by scientists to combat vitamin A deficiency was destroyed by 400 protesters two weeks before being submitted for a safety evaluation.
In their open letter to the respected American journal Science, 11 leading academics, including two Nobel laureates and the president emeritus of the US National Academy of Sciences, blamed Western NGOs for stoking up opposition to such technological advances.
“If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other nongovernmental organisations, as well as by individuals, against golden rice,” they wrote.
Scientists believe that golden rice, which has been developed with charitable funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, could help save the lives of around 670,000 children who die each year from Vitamin A deficiency and another 350,000 who go blind.
But Greenpeace and other environmental groups claim such claims are misleading and “oversimplifying the actual problems in combating vitamin A deficiency”. The programme they argue is “diverting attention from other, more effective solutions”.
In his interview, Mr Paterson said that while any individual advances in GM technology had to be based upon science and proved to be safe but there was no evidence to justify knee-jerk opposition to GM cultivation.