Media Snookered by Activists Posing As Farmers Destroying Genetically Modified Crops, Setting Back Life-Saving Efforts

August 28th, 2013 10:02 PM

At Slate, Mark Lynas tells the story of activist-orchestrated media deception — although one sometimes wonders whether the press even minds being deceived in these instances, and in certain cases whether some journalists are in on the scam.

The deception involves activists who are against any form of biotechnology advances laying waste to a field of genetically modified "golden rice" in the Philippines (bolds are mine; links are in original):

The True Story About Who Destroyed a Genetically Modified Rice Crop

Did you hear that a group of 400 angry farmers attacked and destroyed a field trial of genetically modified rice in the Philippines this month? That, it turns out, was a lie. The crop was actually destroyed by a small number of activists while farmers who had been bussed in to attend the event looked on in dismay.

The nature of the attack was widely misreported, from the New York Times to New Scientist to BBC News, based on false claims by the activists. But then anti-GMO activists often lie. In support of the vandals, Greenpeace has claimed that there are health concerns about the genetically modified rice. In fact there is no evidence of risk, and the destruction of this field trial could lead to needless deaths.

The rice is genetically enhanced to produce the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, giving it a golden color. This vital nutrient is missing from the diets of millions of rice-dependent people in poor countries, where vitamin A deficiency leads to preventable blindness and death on a massive scale.

The golden rice trial was being conducted by the government’s Philippine Rice Research Institute, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and other public sector partners—contrary to the activists’ accusations, there is no private corporate involvement.

... So who were these attackers? Did they look like farmers? "No," replied (golden rice project senior manager Raul) Boncodin. "Maybe two or three of them were farmers, but the rest of them were not real farmers. I could see that this was the first time they had stepped in mud or been to a farm. They were city boys, city girls. Two of them were even sporting dyed hair. ... Would you consider a farmer having dyed hair?"

There is additional evidence beyond the physical appearance of the activists. "Real farmers will not trash a living rice plant," said Boncodin, who is a native of the region where the vandalism took place. "They have this culture that it is unlucky to kill a living rice plant," even if plants are diseased and threaten to infect the rest of the crop.

This taboo on destroying green rice plants is widespread and even has a name: Bosung.

Though the evidence is clear, the following reports linked in the Slate story remain inaccurate.

As, the headline is "Militant Filipino farmers destroy Golden Rice GM crop."

At BBC News, the related report's subheadline reads "A trial plot of genetically modified rice has been destroyed by local farmers in the Philippines." The third content paragraph says that "a group of around 400 protestors attacked the field trial in the Bicol region and uprooted all the GM plants." A reader would have no reason to believe that any of the "protesters" are not "farmers."

At the New York Times, Amy Harmon's story refers to "protesters," but then uses a second-hand quote from a "a farmer who was a leader of the protest" who claimed that “We do not want our people, especially our children, to be used in these experiments.” The underlying link at the Philippine web site describes all 400 of the crop-destroyers as "farmers." It's hard to see how Harmon could know that the quoted "farmer" really is one.

The failure to appropriately correct these stories leads one to believe that the publications involved must be all right with the deceptions they've allowed to take place.

Those who believe I exaggerated in the introduction when I asserted that the activists involved are against any form of biotechnology advances need to read the following sentence from Harmon's report at the Times:

Greenpeace, for one, dismisses the benefits of vitamin supplementation through G.M.O.’s and has said it will continue to oppose all uses of biotechnology in agriculture. As Daniel Ocampo, a campaigner for the organization in the Philippines, put it, “We would rather err on the side of caution.”

Their definition of "caution" is really "no human biotech progress, even if millions of children have to die unnecessarily each year."

Glenn Reynolds's reax at Instapundit: "Don’t lecture me about corporate evil when a $335 million multinational “nonprofit” is fomenting violence against those who are trying to save kids."

Or "compassion," for that matter.

Cross-posted at