More than 100 of the world's leading scientists just took a major stand in the debate over genetically modified organisms (GMO), by penning an open letter to Greenpeace and others who actively campaign against the use of GM crops.
In particular, the scientists called Greenpeace out for publicly opposing golden rice - a GM crop that has the potential to save millions of lives each year by reducing vitamin A deficiency in the developing world.
"They have misrepresented [GMOs] risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects," the researchers write in their letter. "How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a 'crime against humanity'?"
The researchers reference the numerous studies and review papers over the years that have found GM crops to be safe, and not actually that different to regular crops. They're also our best chance of doubling food production by 2050 to feed our rapidly growing population.
"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 method of production," write the scientists. "There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption."
The letter is part of a campaign called Support Precision Agriculture, organised by Philip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology, and Richard Roberts, the chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs.
It's now been signed by 107 Nobel Laureates, including Elizabeth Blackburn, who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine, and Tomas Lindahl and Paul Modrich, who won last year's Prize for Chemistry.
The campaign is holding a press conference on 30 June at the National Press Conference in Washington.
"We’re scientists. We understand the logic of science. It's easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science," Roberts told The Washington Post. "Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause."
While the letter urges Greenpeace to reconsider its stance against GM crops in general, they're particularly concerned about the campaign against golden rice:
"Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to golden rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia."
Golden rice is a variety of rice that's been genetically engineered to biosynthesise beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 250 million children suffer from vitamin A deficiency around the world, including 40 percent of the children under five in the developing world.
The deficiency is a leading cause of childhood blindness, and half the children who experience it die within 12 months of losing their eyesight.
According to UNICEF, a total of 1 to 2 million deaths each year could be prevented if we could find a way to give people sufficient access to vitamin A - and seeing as rice is a staple crop for much of the world, it's a pretty good way to get it into people's diets.
The researchers end the letter with a pretty powerful call to action, and we suspect this is only the beginning of this latest round in the battle over GMOs.
"We call upon governments of the world to ... do everything in their power to oppose Greenpeace's actions and accelerate the access of farmers to all the tools of modern biology, especially seeds improved through biotechnology," they write. "Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped."
Boom. I think they call that a mic drop.