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Kevin O’Leary blasted over GMO foods by 14-year-old activist Rachel Parent

Noel Hulsman

Kevin O'Leary met his match on Wednesday night when he tangled with 14-year-old Rachel Parent in a debate over genetically-modified foods on "The Lang and O'Leary Exchange".

The self-described billionaire, who's preferred style is bluster and bombast, tried to show the Toronto teen the error in her thinking, only to be repeatedly cut short but the young activist, who clearly wasn't going to be intimidated.

The chance to challenge O'Leary on his show emerged after Parent gave a speech to students calling O'Leary views on the GMO food debate "idiotic", particularly his remark that people who oppose GMOs should "stop eating" so we could "get rid of them." Parent, who is the founder of Kids Right to Know, went on to suggest he should have her own his show, saying that if promised not to call her stupid, she wouldn't call him a fascist.

And with that, it was on.

Whether he was being outrageously condescending, or just mindful of the optics of excoriating a young teen right off the bat, O'Leary opened the discussion with the soon-to-be grade 9 student asking her if she was a lobbyist for the anti-GMO movement, and then gently chiding her for not fully appreciating the issues. He went on to ask Parent how she would feel if she, "Let's say you weren't as lucky as you are, you were born in an Asian country, you're 14 years old, your only food was rice that had no Vitamin A in it, you're going blind and then you died."

So far, that doesn't sound particularly appealing. However, salvation, believes O'Leary, is available. His answer is Monsanto, a US$20-billion company based in Missouri which specializes in genetically engineering seeds, among other food sources. "A company like Monsanto could come along and offer you a genetically-modified rice that includes Vitamin A that could save your eyesight and your life," explained O'Leary.

That was to be the trap, the first-world conceit vs. third-world hunger conundrum that Parent could wriggle out of. Unless, of course, she had done her homework and had her facts straight. Which to O'Leary's seemingly well-concealed dismay, she did.

"[Monsanto's] Golden Rice was scrapped because it didn't work," replied Parent. "And in order for the average 11-year-old boy to get enough Vitamin A from rice he would have to eat 27 bowls of rice per day," she said. "The reason there is blindness isn't because there is a lack of Vitamin A in the rice, it's because their diets are simply rice."

The debate unfolded from there, with Parent matching point for point, interjecting at will, and managing to always stay one step ahead of the seasoned TV personality.

In the end, all O'Leary could do was concede that he hoped she would one day change her mind.

Not likely.