Health

TERMINATOR GENES
TERMINAL HUMANITY

The genetic engineering feat of creating the "Terminator" and similar gene technologies that make seeds sterile or dependent upon chemical applications to make them grow is an occasion to pause for deep reflection. It is too simplistic to regard such patented innovations as being motivated by corporate greed aimed at global monopoly of crops and foods. Yet certainly, from the corporate mindset, this makes good market sense and makes their investors feel secure.

"Shallow" biotechnology assessments focus only on long-term costs and benefits. "Deep" biotechnology assessments focus on long term costs and consequence from a broader bioethical evaluation. A "deep" biotechnology assessment of Terminator and related agribiotechnologies from this bioethical perspective includes a full assessment of the social, economic and ecological impacts of conventional "production" agriculture on which this new technology is being built.

From this deeper assessment of Terminator and related crop biotechnology develpoments, we are able to gain a clearer picture of consequences. We are better able to see, by reflection, the rationalizations and denial of the corporate mind-set and allied scientists and university and government institutions engaged in genetic engineering for the new "life science" industry.

The prognosis, if these new developments are not stopped by appropriate public opposition nationally and internationally, is extremely unfavorable. Its horizon is the terminal point of our humanity, where we make the final choice between reverence for life or total exploitation. The termination of humane values and ethics by rising global biotechnocracy - the life science industry - is now underway. Its values are antithethical to all that made us human.

The termination of our humanity of those feelings and values that make us humane and which connect us through humility, with the earth (humus) and fill us with the sense of wonder, kinship and reverence for life, is in process. The genetic determinism and imperialism of the life science industry is based on an exploitive, parasitic relationship with other living organisms. It is driven by the arrogant presumption that life can be patented and that the human possesses sufficient knowledge to actually be able to sufficiently enhance the utility of living organisms by altering their genetic compositions for pecuniary ends.

Biotechnology, because it is motivated by selfish interests, combined with technological enchantment, serves to further distance and ultimately alienate us from the natural world, from other sentient beings, and from all of God's creation that earlier generations venerated as sacred.

Riding on the apocalyptic wings of the industrial that "disgoded" nature, agriculture biotechnology, which technophiles tout as the second "Green Revolution" is fast on the heels of the calamitous petrochemical and hybrid seed based green revolution of the 1960's and 1970's, spectacular harvests not withstanding. Just as with the first green revolution, the social, cultural. economic, ecological and other costs of agribiotechnology will be rationalized, concealed and denied.

Of particular alarm is the evident lack of concern about these evident and predictable adverse consequences of agribiotechnology and the apparent historical amnesia of agribusiness with respect to the harms of the first green revolution, especially in developing countries. This seeming lack of concern is, I believe, in part a consequence of this new technology being developed in a biotechnical vacuum, where only short term profits and losses are considered, and also because of the distancing of this technology from biological reality because it is driven by the economic reality of the competitive world market place.

Such apparent lack of concern is part of a more generalized cultural disconnectedness from all that is wild and natural, a potentially terminal condition characterized by increasing biological illiteracy and increasing biological sophistication. As Poet T.S. Eliot foresaw, wisdom has been lost to knowledge and knowledge has been lost to information.

Self-styled science writer Stephan Budiansky, in the July 1999 edition of Atlantic Monthly magazine, provides a prime example of this terminal state of mind, where there is biophobia rather than biophilia, coupled with a purported understanding of genetic mechanisms that is totally irrelevant to the interpretation of dog behavior and psychology. He uses recent preliminary findings from the canine genome project to support his belief that "your dog pretends to like you" and that "recent explorations into the field of canine genetics are changing the way we think about man's best friend - man's best parasite may be more like it - and could help the damage being done by a century of inbreeding". Such prejudice, based on false extrapolations from genetic research and the promise of genetic remediation/enhancement, are part of the new pseudoscience of genetic determinism that is reminiscent of the eugenics of Nazi Germany. If Budiansky"s worldview becomes the norm, a view being promoted by the life science industry, we have much more to fear than Terminator gene technology and genetically defective dogs who may bite the hand that feeds them.

Michael W. Fox is senior scholar, bioethics
The Humane Society of the United States,
2100 L Str. NW, Washington, D.C. 20037.

Dr. Fox's latest book, Eating with Conscience: The Bioethics of Food, is available from Acres USA for $15 plus $1,50 for shipping.


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