Tuesday, 24 September 2013

AM: 20/9 Scientists speak out against GM rice trial vandalism

Scientists speak out against GM rice trial vandalism
Tom Nightingale reported this story on Friday, September 20, 2013 08:20:00
TIM PALMER: Some of the world's top scientists are speaking out against the vandalism of a trial of genetically modified (GM) rice in the Philippines six weeks ago. 

The rice was being developed to combat vitamin A deficiency, which is responsible for up to three million deaths a year in Africa and South East Asia. 

After anti GM activists destroyed the crop, a former chief scientist of Australia has fired back at the opponents of GM crops as unscientific, comparing them to anti vaccination campaigners.

Tom Nightingale reports. 

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Almost half the world relies on rice as a staple food. But the absence of vitamin A in white rice leads to blindness in children and pregnant women.

Jim Peacock is with the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and is formerly a chief scientist of Australia. 

JIM PEACOCK: I'm talking about approximately a million children a year going blind and many of them, most of them dying at an early age. 

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Vitamin A deficiency also hits the body's immune system, so other illnesses become worse. The figures are hard to pin down but the death toll could be nearly three million a year. 

JIM PEACOCK: This is a public health tragedy that we must recognise and appreciate that it can be removed.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Scientists in the Philippines are trialling genetically modified rice known as golden rice for its distinctive yellow colour. For years it's been tipped as a potential solution to global vitamin A deficiency. But six weeks ago about 400 or so people trampled the crop so that neighbouring properties wouldn't be contaminated.

Jim Peacock sees parallels with the debate about immunising children against diseases.

JIM PEACOCK: I mean it's so easy for the anti-science people, the anti-GM people like Greenpeace, to make statements against the GM in a very general and very often completely inaccurate and a level of misinformation. 

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Thousands of researchers have signed a statement against the destruction. And 11 scientists, including Jim Peacock, are authors of an editorial published today in the journal, Science. 

The ABC spoke to Daniel Ocampo who's a Greenpeace campaigner in Manila.

DANIEL OCAMPO: It is actually incorrect for the scientist to assume that golden rice will be a solution to vitamin A deficiency.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Greenpeace and others don't believe that genetically modified, or golden rice, is a solution to vitamin A deficiency. 

DANIEL OCAMPO: What's being done in the Philippines is dramatically reduce vitamin A deficiencies in last 10 years and these solutions are already there and they're working. And the funding that is actually being wasted on golden rice should instead be diverted into these working solutions already.

TIM PALMER: Daniel Ocampo, a Greenpeace sustainable agriculture campaigner in the Philippines, speaking with Tom Nightingale.

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