Originally founded as a nuclear war protest movement in 1969, the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace has been on the frontlines of the crop biotechnology debate since the late 1990s. The group has been so influential that Organic Consumers Association (OCA) founder Ronnie Cummins credits Greenpeace for turning anti-GMO advocacy into a viable political cause.
Today the group is actively involved in efforts to ban new gene-editing technologies, including CRISPR-Cas9, in Europe. “Releasing these new [gene-edited crops] into the environment without proper safety measures is illegal and irresponsible,” Greenpeace warned in July 2018. Scientists have been battling the group’s efforts to demonize the technology, urging EU leaders to stop Greenpeace from stealing “the narrative” around agricultural gene editing.
The international environmental nonprofit advises and frequently collaborates with prominent anti-GMO advocacy groups to advance its policy agenda. Greenpeace USA researcher Charlie Cray, for example, sits on the board of directors at U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), an organic industry-funded activist group that attacks biotech researchers who engage in public science outreach. In 2016, Greenpeace partnered with Friends of Earth and Slow Food Germany to lobby against a proposal that would have allowed Europe to import GMO soybeans, claiming exposure to the crops may cause cancer. Greenpeace has also collaborated with the German nonprofit TestBiotech, which was founded in 2008 by former Greenpeace campaigner Christof Then. Then is TestBiotech’s executive and scientific director. The two advocacy groups published research suggesting that GMO corn encourages the spread of new plant pests, which was refuted by experts in 2012.
Greenpeace is perhaps best known for its campaigne against golden rice, vitamin-fortified rice varieties that could help prevent blindness in developing East Asian countries. In 2016, the group alleged that “[c]orporations are overhyping golden rice to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops.” Greenpeace also accused Chinese researchers in 2011 of using children as “guinea pigs” in a study of golden rice, again claiming the biotech industry has a financial incentive “to get us hooked on their seed.”
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