Posts tagged with: Genetically modified food

godzilla1954cFear of the unknown hazards of technology has been the inspiration for science fiction cautionary tales from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Japanese superstar Godzilla. Sadly, this fear extends to the harmless – and indeed extremely positive – applications of science in contemporary agriculture, especially when it comes to producing cheap, plentiful food for people on every rung of the economic ladder.

Modern agriculture’s ability to feed the Earth’s population is nothing short of miraculous. Modern science and practices have enabled the farming sector to raise livestock and grow crops capable of offering inexpensive nutrition to the majority of the world’s billions. One group whom one would think ecstatic at such developments would be the religious shareholder investors at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. The ICCR folk, however, turn up their noses at genetically modified organisms that have revolutionized agriculture over the past 20 years, making it possible to grow drought-resilient and pest-resistant crops. (more…)

GM-corn-mIn Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Matthew Dalton reported that the European Union likely will approve a genetically modified organism for only the second time in the past 15 years. The EU is poised to grant E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company permission to grow 1507, a DuPont-developed GMO corn.

DuPont first sought approval in 2001 for 1507 … After positive safety reviews and several decisions by the European Court of Justice criticizing the European Commission for delaying its decision, the commission is now close to approving the crop…

The crop ‘meets all EU regulatory requirements and should be approved for cultivation without further delay,’ DuPont said. (more…)

ballotAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to inventory the year’s proxy resolutions introduced by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. ICCR, a group purportedly acting on religious principles and faith, is actually nothing more than a shareholder activist group engaged in the advancement of leftist causes at the expense of their fellow shareholders and the world’s poorest.

ICCR recently released its 2013 Annual Report. Its “2013 Proxy Season Recap” (pp. 16, 17) presents a snapshot of initiatives ICCR members pursued this past year. The foundations for several categories betray the left’s tenuous grasp of science and economics while, at the same time, displaying a perverse naiveté regarding the potential negative consequences of their respective crusades.

Fortunately, all the worst proposals failed. As noted previously, ICCR shareholder resolutions are drafted by Bruce Freed, president of the George Soros-funded Center for Political Accountability (CPA). Both Freed and ICCR boast huge successes for their resolutions, assertions that rely on extremely fuzzy methodology that excludes abstention votes. (more…)

No! Not the Dark Money!

No! Not the Dark Money!

“Dark money” sounds menacing and foreboding – a financial nomenclature suggestive of gothic masterpieces like “The Raven” and “The Black Cat.” Whereas Poe’s tales actually contain sinister elements, the phrase dark money is employed by activist shareholders much like the villains of countless “Scooby Doo” cartoons devised illusory ghosts, werewolves and vampires. The evildoers wanted to scare those meddlesome Mystery Machine kids from nefarious moneymaking schemes.

The anti-capitalism messages of “Scooby Doo” are repeated by those ominously intoning the perceived evils of so-called dark money in politics. In ordinary political usage, dark money refers to funds raised to finance an election campaign or ballot initiative without any requirement of public disclosure before voters decide the question.

Shareholder activists have torn a well-worn page from the “Scooby Doo” playbook by adopting the tactics of the show’s bad guys. These tactics include attempts to frighten voters with the dark money bogeyman, who lurks behind other pet issues such as genetically modified organisms and fracking (hydraulic fracturing). (more…)

3708GSD_21136_CheerLH_V10L.tifThe 2013 proxy shareholder season is over, resolutions debated into their respective win/loss columns and reports filed. This hasn’t stopped those shareholder Godflies – the clergy, nuns and other religious on the left – from firing the first salvos for 2014 corporate battles. Among the companies targeted for the initial fusillade is General Mills Inc., purveyor of such perceived market atrocities as the Cheerios breakfast cereal and Yoplait yogurt. Specifically, the company’s packaging practices and use of genetically modified organisms has come under fire

Mind you, your writer has nothing against reasonably priced foods as part of a healthy, affordable breakfast. In fact, Cheerios was a “get-up-and-go” staple of this former farm boy’s life. Continuing the trend, a bag of those little grainy nuggets of morning goodness served church going well by quieting my rambunctious toddlers during innumerable Sunday masses. I do, however, rankle when so-called “religious” activists employ bad science to drive up food prices for those least able to afford it, especially families with young children.

As You Sow, a nonprofit shareholder advocacy group allied with such Godflies as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and “social responsibility investment” firms Walden Asset Management and Trillium Asset Management presented a resolution to General Mills this past month that would have required the company to implement “extended producer responsibility” for packaging waste. Apparently, it’s incumbent upon the company to ensure cereal boxes and yogurt cups are recycled once consumers empty them. (more…)

Golden RiceA piece of news analysis over the weekend by Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the New York Times, captures well the dynamics of the current debates about the merits of genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s).

Harmon writes specifically about the case of Golden Rice, which has some attributes that should inoculate it against common concerns about GMO’s. Golden Rice is not monopolized by a corporate entity, and has been developed specifically to address urgent health concerns in the developing world:

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

Harmon also observes that “beyond the fear of corporate control of agriculture, perhaps the most cited objection to G.M.O.’s is that they may hold risks that may not be understood. The decision to grow or eat them relies, like many other decisions, on a cost-benefit analysis.”

Get_Your_Hands_DirtyAs I argue in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty, there is a theological basis for the development of genetically-modified foods. The cost-benefit sorts of reasoning has its place, but as I argue, “The limits of all these arguments about GM food are essentially the same: they argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns. While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common sense, they are neither comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.”

A Christian examination of GMO’s cannot be limited simply to arguments about expediency. It is necessary to first establish that a moral basis exists for this type of human activity. As I examine the case of GM foods through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, I conclude that such a “biblical-theological framework provides some important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement with regard to food. This reality is in some respect directly related to the truth of human exceptionalism, the priority of human life over and against that of animals and particularly plants.”

So while expediency cannot be the sole arbiter validating GMO’s, the human cost associated with either acceptance or rejection of such foods are relevant. There are some legitimate concerns about GM foods, at both the level of principle and practice. There are no perfect solutions. But even so, as I put it, our “default position should be in favor of innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively increasing the fruitfulness of the earth.”

Monsanto PlantWriting over at the Live58 blog, Catherine Sinclair describes her transition from uncertainty regarding GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) to outright opposition: “After doing some more research, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should avoid GMO as much as possible.” This a conclusion that we might think is counter-intuitive, to say the least, for an organization committed to ending the scourge of global hunger and poverty.

Sinclair’s main indictment of GMOs comes down to the agribusiness giant Monsanto: “Because they are companies seeking profit, seed developers like Monsanto do whatever they can to control the agricultural industry.”

It’s important to distinguish the theoretical and ethical basis for genetic modification from the actual behavior and practice of corporations like Monsanto. Too often the two are conflated. In my new book, Get Your Hands Dirty, I have an updated discussion of a theological framework for evaluating GM foods. As I caution at the conclusion of my examination of GM foods, “nothing in this framework presumes any particular policy outcome in the realm of law, and so, for instance, concerns about the use of property rights as a means to tyrannize or monopolize particular industries ought to be considered.”

Making such a distinction allows an approach that is more nuanced and responsible than simply identifying Monsanto with GMOs in general. So, for instance, a self-identified “hippie” writes in Slate:

I think Monsanto is evil, that patenting seeds and suing farmers is unethical, and that some GMO crops (like Roundup Ready Soybeans) lend themselves to irresponsible herbicide and pesticide use and cross-contamination.

But I’m also not going to let my anti-corporate sentiments get in the way of a diverse and promising field of research. (emphasis added)

Genetic modification and the cronyism that is so endemic to big agribusiness simply aren’t identical. That distinction strikes me as a helpful starting point for responsible discussion of GMOs.

For a critical but balanced examination of GMOs in theological context, check out Brad Littlejohn’s treatment of his “inner Luddite” at Mere Orthodoxy.

Finding solutions for feeding the world’s poorest is about as non-controversial a mission as you could imagine for someone pursuing a religious vocation. Yet, the investors belonging to the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility put politicized science ahead of that mission in their opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The ICCR’s approach to GMOs leans more toward anti-business political activism than any concern for producing plentiful crops that are resilient against pests, diseases and extreme weather events such as drought or excessive precipitation, which, in turn, would benefit those endeavoring to provide inexpensive foodstuffs to the economically and ecologically disadvantaged.

Judging from ICCR proxy shareholder literature, feeding more people less expensively is secondary to a politicized agenda. This from the ICCR’s “The Right Solutions to Hunger:”

“In recent years, several weeds have built up resistance to the herbicides used on GE [genetically engineered] crops, driving the use of more, and multiple industrialized herbicides to kill them. Who is looking long-term, for the protection of the consumer and the food system and who will bear the risk?” asked Margaret Weber of the Congregation of St. Basil. “These issues are critical and it is apparent that the regulatory system is not adequately addressing them,” she continued.

And this: (more…)

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued his diktat against 20-ounce soft drinks earlier this year, the negative public outcry was tremendous.

Now comes the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility with proxy shareholder resolutions aimed at PepsiCo, the parent company of Pepsi Cola, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Frito Lay and Gatorade. At issue is PepsiCo’s freely acknowledged use of genetically modified organisms in several of its products.

Apparently the ICCR takes umbrage with GMOs and, by extension, PepsiCo’s use thereof. The ICCR proxy resolution calls for PepsiCo to label all products containing GMOs.

Trouble is ICCR fails to make its case against the use of GMOs other than a list of studies offering inconclusive evidence. Additionally, ICCR doesn’t provide any theological underpinnings for its objections other than the shareholders’ respective religious affiliations.

The ICCR proxy resolution prompted Paul Boykas, PepsiCo vice president of Global Public Policy and Federal Government Affairs, to respond in a detailed letter on March 19. In his letter, Boykas states: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Steve Connor in The Independent (HT: RealClearReligion) speculates about some happenings at the Vatican with regard to genetically-modified (GM) food. It’s important to note, as is the case in this article, that things that happen in various committees and study groups at the Vatican do not by default have some kind of papal endorsement.

To wit:

A leaked document from a group of scientists linked to Rome has set a hare running about the possible endorsement of GM technology by the Pope. The document, from scientists linked to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, suggested that there is a moral duty to adopt GM technology in order to combat hunger.

Connor’s larger point is more chastened and more accurate, however. “Intriguingly, although the debate over GM crops has died down in Britain for the moment, something tells me it is set once more to become one of the most contentious scientific issues of our time – and one where both sides will invoke morality to justify their position,” he concludes.

I’m generally in favor of allowing GM food, with the caveat that animals have a different moral status than do plants. I sketch out a case in “A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food.” More recently you can see an Acton Commentary from earlier this year, “The Science of Stewardship: Sin, Sustainability, and GM Foods.”

I also should note that the use of GM foods to patent certain seeds, which then naturally circulate to non GM cropland, raises a whole host of issues related to property rights that are quite complex and can’t be dealt with here. I will say, though, that it’s not obvious to me why farmers shouldn’t have the rights to keep their crops from being exposed to GM seeds if they don’t want them to be and further how in the case of such involuntary exposure the responsibility to mitigate lies with the non GM crop farmer.