Access to food developed through genetic modification is an urgent humanitarian issue, and those who oppose GMOs are guilty of crimes against humanity.

That was the none-too-subtle message Nobel Prize winner and molecular biologist Sir Richard Roberts delivered during a  lecture last week at Iowa State University. 

Roberts’ talk titled “Campaign to Support GMOs” focused on debunking claims by some that food that has been genetically modified is dangerous for human consumption and should be banned.

“If you listen to the anti-GMO activists, they’ll tell you that if you take a gene from a fish and put it into a plant, who knows, maybe the plant will swim away,” he said. “It’s just nonsense, utter nonsense. What’s important here is the product, not the method by which it is made.”

Golden rice

As an example, Roberts shar­ed the story of golden rice. 

This variety of rice was developed in the 1990s to address lack of Vitamin A in diets of people in developing countries. Golden rice was modified to move beta carotene, which occurs naturally in many vegetables and is responsible for giving carrots their orange color, into the rice kernel. The human body converts beta carotene into Vitamin A. By adjusting rice to hold beta carotene in the edible portion of the plant (the chemical occurs in rice naturally but only the leaves and stem), this provides additional, much needed nutrients to a hungry population. Or would, if it was allowed to be grown in those struggling regions.

Since its official introduction in 2005, golden rice has only been allowed into a few developing nations, though countries like the U.S., Australia and New Zealand declared it safe more than a decade ago. Portions of Africa and Asia, where the variety could have the most ben­­efit, still re­­sist allowing it because leadership is afraid of GMO foods.

“Since 2005, literally millions of children have died from lack of Vitamin A in their diets,” Roberts said. “My question is, how many children have to die before we consider this a crime against humanity? If this had been a genocide…, it would take many less children to die before the world would have been up in arms.”

Taking back the narrative

In response to all the misinformation about GMO foods, Roberts founded the “Support GMOs and Golden Rice,” organization. This group now counts 151 living Nobel Prize winners among its supporters, along with more than 13,000 individuals from the public who pledged to support and work to debunk the spread of false information about GMOs. Visit to learn more about the group’s efforts.

Roberts said that in the U.S. and other developed and wealthy nations, food choice is a luxury. If a person here wants to buy and eat only organic foods, or varieties of fruits and vegetables that are non-GMO, they should certainly be allowed to.

Stop the lies about GMOS

But those with plenty shouldn’t lie to those with less. 

“Don’t pretend you’re making the choice because GMOs are dangerous. They’re not,” Roberts said. 

“Just admit you don’t like the idea and want to eat something else. Buy what you want, but don’t go telling everyone you’re doing it because GMO foods are dangerous when everything says they’re not.”