More than a hundred Nobel laureates signed a scathing letter earlier this week, condemning Greenpeace’s opposition to genetically modified crops and claiming that such alarmism contributes to blindness and death among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, especially hurting children.

“We’re scientists,” said the letter’s organizer, 1993 Nobel Prize winner Richard Roberts, who is also the chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs. “We understand the logic of science. It’s easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science. 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.”

The Nobel laureates’ letter focuses on Greenpeace’s opposition to Golden Rice, which is genetically modified to include more vitamin A.

The letter notes that a vitamin A deficiency afflicts estimated 250 million people worldwide, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, contributing to as many as 2 million preventable deaths each year.

Poor children are disproportionately affected, the letter notes; four in 10 suffering from a vitamin A deficiency are no older than five.

“VAD itself is the leading cause of childhood blindness globally, affecting 250,000-500,000 children each year,” the letter said. “Half die within 12 months of losing their eyesight.”

The Guardian reported a few years ago on the incredible potential of Golden Rice to alleviate this problem.

"All the time, opponents to golden rice insisted, year after year, that it would not be able to produce vitamin A in those who ate it," said [professor of cell biology Peter] Beyer, golden rice's co-creator. "For example, it was alleged by Greenpeace that people would have to eat several kilograms of the stuff to get any benefit."

Two studies, both published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, demolished this claim. The first, in 2009, was based on a group of healthy adult volunteers in the US and showed that golden rice's beta-carotene was easily taken up into the bloodstream. The second trial was carried out by American and Chinese researchers and published last year. It was carried out on Chinese children, aged between six and eight, and showed that a bowl of cooked golden rice, between 100g and 150g, could provide 60% of the recommended intake of vitamin A for young people. The study also revealed that golden rice is better than spinach at providing vitamin A.

"Given that normal rice has no vitamin A to speak of, that shows the importance of what has been achieved," said [Golden Rice Project member Adrian] Dubock.

As Julie Gunlock has reported here at IWF, critics of GMOs are notoriously scant on science. Learn more in this podcast.