Health

GENETIC ENGINEERING


In Europe, people are arguably more politically involved than in the United States in the global socio-economic and environmental costs and risks of agribiotechnology and the ethical ramifications and medical hazards of xenotransplants, genetically engineered vaccines, and pharmacological animal health care products. In the fall of 1997, five naked activists scaled the offices of Bartle Bogle Hegarty in England to protest the fact that this advertising agency was working for Monsanto to give genetically engineered food an image makeover. A strong European coalition of Greenpeace, the Gaia Foundation, and Friends of the Earth have formed "Reclaim the Streets," a genetic engineering network. Mainstream opponents of biotechnology are opposing more than the technology itself.

They are opposing a political system that permits genetic piracy, genetic capitalism, and genetic monopoly by multinational agricultural and pharmaceutical industries. they see biotechnology as having some potential benefits, but further argue that these benefits will never be realized so long as profits come first and the market-driven thrust of the food and drug industrial complex results in widespread misapplications of genetic engineering.

In the first place, these profit-making pressures tend to displace conventional crops, organic agriculture, and natural foods in a global game of monopoly. Secondly, the profit motive leads to the marketing of medical products, many derived from transgenic animals, to treat rather than prevent, a variety of human diseases that have a dysfunctional, genetic, neuroendocrine or immune system basis. The vast capital investment and overemphasis on genetic engineering as a panacea for such dysfunctional maladies undermines a more holistic approach to human health care maintenance and disease prevention. This necessitates a much more stringent prohibition of industrial pollutants and more widespread adoption of the practices of organic agriculture. Consumers need to be eating with conscience and assuming greater responsibility for their own health.

LIFE IS MORE THAN ENGINEERING CAN HANDLE.

Agricultural applications of genetic engineering, like conventional industrial agriculture, of which it is an extension, threaten to disrupt the self-organizing, self-replicating, self-healing, regenerative, and self-sustaining capacities of organisms, ecosystems, local communities, and national economies. As Vandava Shiva notes, "Ecological problems arise from applying the engineering paradigm to life." The deformities of cloned animals and genetic pollution by genetically engineered crops are indicative of our lack of understanding of natural systems and processes that the wrong-minded engineering paradigm of life has created. Shiva sees that "when organisms are treated as if they are machines, an ethical shift takes place - life is seen as having instrumental rather than intrinsic value.".

Genetic engineering is now part of the globalization of an industrialized, market-driven economy that sees life as a mere commodity. Via intellectual property rights (patents on genetically engineered products) and the World Trade Organization's legal system and conventions, a global monoculture is being created that is displacing nature and indigenous cultures. As Shiva points out, "GATT is the platform where the capitalistic, patriarchal notion of freedom as the unrestrained right of men with economic power to own, control and destroy life is articulated as free trade." The globalization of this industrial monoculture undermines local economies, self-governance and self-determination. As Shiva rightly concludes, "An intolerance of diversity is the biggest threat to peace in our times; conversely, the cultivation of diversity is the most significant contribution to peace - peace with nature and between diverse peoples."

MISAPPLICATIONS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY.

Resistance to biotechnology in the Third World is intensifying as such countries become the victims of "biopiracy" - the corporate theft of indigenous knowledge and genetic resources, as exemplified by W.R. Grace Company of the United States claiming patents on India's neem tree products on the basis of their modernized extraction methods.

The collective consequences of the ways in which genetically engineered technology is being misapplied is one of many human influences, including over-population and over- consumption, that will mean a world soon devoid of a whole earth, of a nature that is vibrant and as rich in biological diversity as the world is enriched by our own cultural diversity. "Reclaim the Streets" is a resistance movement against monoculture: against genetic imperialism, capitalistic industrialism, and the annihilation of biological and cultural diversity and autonomy. Self- determination, self-organization, self-replication and self-regulation are the organic components of humane and sustainable societies, economies, and of natural ecosystems engaging in the living processes of creation and transformation.

The "anti-monoculture resistance movement" is now spreading worldwide as diverse people come together, ever more effectively via the internet. They see biotechnology as a growing menace to biocultural diversity and abhor the transformation of the natural world into a bioindustrialized monoculture of productive efficiency, driven by consumer demand and corporate profits and growth. The growth and diversification of multinational corporations is coupled to the shrinking of the natural world and the irretrievable loss of biological diversity.


ENDANGERED LIFE

Some British scientists see this loss as a natural result of human evolution and suggest that provided the major family branches on the evolutionary tree of life are not severed, but only "twigs" cut off, (meaning individual species) other twigs will eventually sprout, evolving, as they always have done. The claim is that species extinction is not going to "make any difference to us personally." So says Oxford ecologist Dr. Sean Nee, co-author with the United Kingdom government's chief scientist Professor Robert May of an article in "Science" that says, "Approximately 95 percent of species are lost," and that, "we have shown that much of the tree can survive vigorous pruning." While Dr. Nee recognizes that each species is unique and that extinction eliminates it for eternity, he told a news-reporter for "The Independent" in October 1997 that, "I guess I'm taking the naughty side - it's a bit more fun.".

This absurdly reductionistic view of these scientific "experts" is flawed in many ways. First, they do not see that what sustains the tree of life is the tree itself, each species contributing to the functional integrity of the Earth's ecology. Second, they ignored the probability that mass extinctions could cause great harm to the tree of life and harm us also, since we are dependent upon the tree, as we are a small, possibly diseased little growth on one of its many limbs.


HOW PREVALENT IS TRANSGENIC FOOD?

In May of 1997, "The New York Times" asked Genetic ID, a company that has developed the technology to test food for genetically engineered food ingredients, to test soy-based baby formulas and eight other products made with soy or corn. The formulas - Carnation Alsoy, Similac, Neocare, Isomil, and Enfamil Prosobee - all tested positive; Eden soy milk was negative. Morningstar Farms Breakfast Links and Morningstar Farm Better n' Burgers, Betty Crocker Bacos Bacon Bits, all soy-based products, turned up positive, as did some corn-based chips - Tostitos Crispy Rounds, Doritos Nacho Cheesier, and Fritos.

Genetic ID provided the following list of genetically engineered foods that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration or are in the "pipeline" for approval: Alfalfa, Corn*, Raspberries, Apples, Cotton (cottonseed oil)*, Rice, Asparagus, Salmon*, Beets, Flaxseed, Squash, Broccoli, Grapes, Strawberries, Canola (rapeseed oil)*, Kiwi fruit, Sugar cane, Carrots, Lettuce, Sunflowers, Cauliflower, Papayas, Tomatoes*, Cheesemaking, Peanuts, Walnuts, enzymes (chymosin)*, Pepper, Watermelons, Chestnuts, Potatoes*, Wheat. (An Asterisk indicates foods currently in the marketplace).

As ethics professor Paul B. Thompson emphasizes in his book "Food Biotechnology in Ethical Perspective," changes in our food wrought by new technologies can not be determined to be in any way unnatural and publicly unacceptable by policymakers if the primary, if not sole, criterion of acceptability is food safety. This procedural issue of by whom and by what criteria food should be labeled is a major bioethical issue. Substantial public concerns - religious, ethical and esthetic (meaning desiring whole and natural foods) should not be discounted by policymakers who ought not to violate liberties of conscience, consumer sovereignty and the right of informed choice.

I do not agree with Thompson's proposal for a "no biotechnology" type of label that would enable people desirous of access to whole foods and beverages, since it would leave processed and prepared foods in an increasing number and variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, unlabeled. This type of labeling could quickly lead to very few natural foods and seeds being available ever again. More so if policymakers and lawyers succeed in getting genetically engineered seeds and other genetically engineered products like rBHG approved as "organic" under the United States Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards. Thompson does not share my urgency, but we both agree that the opposition to labeling genetically engineered food by the food industry and many scientists is based upon specious claims about the safety of such food. This kind of public policy, touted as objective and "science based," discounts bioethical concerns and usurps consumer sovereignty.

Proper food labeling may slow down the biotech explosion, but what is really needed is a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops and on the release of any and all genetically engineered organisms into the environment. This moratorium would end on a case by case basis, as each crop is proven to cause no genetic pollution, or harm to soil microorganisms or other natural fauna and flora that are currently ecologically beneficial and part of wild nature.

Michael W. Fox is senior scholar and vice-president/farm animals and bioethics, The Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037.

Dr. Fox's latest book, "Eating With Conscience: The Bioethics of Food," is published by NewSage Press, P.O. Box 607, Troutdale, OR 97060, (503) 695-2211, fax (503) 695-5406, e-mail newsage@teleport.com, price $14.95.

(Reprint, ACRES U.S.A., April, 1998 edition)

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

The Light Party,
20 Sunnyside Ave., Suite A-156
Mill Valley, CA 94941.
Tel: (415) 381-4061 * Fax: (415) 381-2645
Dedicated to "Health, Peace and Freedom for All"

Your Feedback is important to us. Please send us E-Mail.

Top or Page

Health Directory

Home