Mr. Paterson scathingly castigates the rich "environmental" (green) groups that are funded by wealthy elites and foundations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environmental Working Group (EWG), Friends of the Earth, and (especially) Greenpeace, for their baseless but well-devised campaigns to manipulate consumers' fears and spread suspicion and mistrust among the public. These well-heeled groups - the news is probably shocking to an undergraduate audience - are not devoted to saving the earth and its precious biodiversity, as they often claim; instead, their motivation is first and foremost financial and their methods are political and cultural.
But most tragically the consequences are felt by the malnourished poor in Asia and Africa. And they are heavily backed by interests having nothing to do with Mother Earth: Big Organic has invested in anti-GMO crusades like the "Just Label It' movement, which wants warning labels on non-organic food, and the U.S. Right To Know group, which exists to smear scientists who stand up to anti-science rhetoric.
Mr. Paterson has been an MP for almost 20 years, and served as David Cameron's Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2012-2014. He was sacked in no small part due to his opposition to the baseless ban on the neonicotinoid class of pesticides over phony bee-colony toxicity allegations.
His talk was sponsored by Cornell's Alliance for Science speaker series, whose mission is to use facts to counter the perceived tendency of college students to follow the environmentalist mantra without too much thought — a problem that seems to be growing among the population at large as well, as evidenced by the growing "concern" about biotechnology and GMOs. These fears are being promoted by green activist groups, whose vast resources help spread the fear-mongering against the clear science- and evidence-based benefits of agricultural biotechnology. For anyone with any grounding in science, including genetics or biochemistry, the concept of being afraid of genetic engineering is akin to looking under the bed for hobgoblins such as Godzilla, awakened by the atomic tests of the Cold War.
Paterson sets out to explain how genetically-engineered crops are not so different from millennia-old plant breeding techniques, the main difference being the microscopic precision scientists can now use to transfer one or two genes accurately. He further notes that GMO crops are now being planted in more under-developed lands than in wealthier countries, and that small freeholders are gaining the benefits in terms of crop yields, no-till methods, labor saving, and higher income.
Greenpeace is called out because its campaign against Golden Rice - basically, a public domain bowl of vitamin-enriched rice - is not just anti-science, it is anti-human. Paterson illustrates in sickening detail the consequences for the impoverished, malnourished poor in the Third World where vitamin A deficiency is common, suffered by 200 million or more in areas unseen by wealthy bureaucrats and NGO leaders in Brussels, Berkeley and New York. While such deficiencies are vision-impairing, the attendant immune deficiencies lead to premature death of perhaps a half-million infants and children each year. The remedy has been close at hand for 15 years now: Golden Rice, gene-modified to supply vitamin A precursors in the form of golden rice — but kept away from those poor children by a pervasive pressure campaign led by Greenpeace.
A typical tactic of the anti-GMO lobby is to tar all such products with the "Big Agrobusiness" label, attempting to tie all GMOs to Monsanto and other disfavored companies. They fail to acknowledge that the Golden Rice prototype was developed in Dr. Ingo Potrykus' lab in Switzerland, and was later improved by Syngenta and donated to the humanitarian project now coordinated by the International Rice Research Institute, with national partners in the lead.
Mr. Paterson points out that the Greens and their acolytes initially claimed the modified rice would not work; when that was shown to be false, they then called for more evidence, more experimentation. But then, in 2011 and 2013, they unleashed vandals disguised as grassroots anti-GMO farmers to trample and pull out plants in experimental fields, preventing accumulating the evidence they allegedly sought.
Let's conclude with Mr. Paterson's own words: "The question must be asked, when did this 'humanitarian' organization and so many others like it become so disdainful about the lives of the desperately poor? Do Greenpeace supporters understand that the conduct of the organization that they give to has been truly wicked?
"Patrick Moore, one the early leaders of Greenpeace in the 1970s when it took account of science and respected human life, has broken with his old organization for just this reason. He now works to expose Greenpeace’s actions in the developing world and has joined with Golden Rice inventor Ingo Potrykus in calling for the organization to be tried for crimes against humanity."