Posts tagged with: Genetically modified organism

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Friday, February 28, 2014

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…)

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Friday, February 14, 2014

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…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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.

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Tuesday, April 23, 2013

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…)

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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…)

The Dow Chemical Co., along with E.I. Du Pont de Nemours, has come under fire from the Adrian Dominicans and the Sisters of Charity due to the companies’ production of genetically modified organisms.

No, the sisters aren’t mounting the barricades outside the two corporations to protest what they might term “Frankenfoods,” but they have submitted proxy shareholder resolutions to demand, among other things, the companies review and report by November 2013 on:

  1. Adequacy of plans for removing GE [genetically engineered] seed from the ecosystem should circumstances require;
  2. Possible impact on all Dow seed product integrity;
  3. Effectiveness of established risk management processes for different environments and agricultural systems.

According to the As You Sow 2013 Proxy Preview, Harrington Investments – described in the preview as “religious investors” – are pressing Monsanto to provide even more detailed reports by July 2013.

AYS, for its part, is taking on Abbott Laboratories with a resolution seeking the company remove all GMOs from the company’s Similac Isomil infant formula “with an interim step of [requiring] labeling” that Isomil includes GMOs. The resolution reads, in part, that Abbott: (more…)