Posts tagged with: golden rice

bananaMuch real estate on this blog has been devoted to extolling the scientifically proven safety and morally indispensible qualities of GMOs, and much shade cast by your writer at the religious shareholder activists acting to curtail or eliminate GMO use.

No legitimate scientific research has proven GMOs unsafe, and the promise GMOs hold for feeding the world’s poorest is extraordinary. Why, then, the reservations of such progressive groups as As You Sow and Green America? Could it be they simply are intent on being a fly in the ointment of corporations responsible for bringing GM seeds resistant to drought, pests and pesticides to market?

The previous question was prompted by actions by student activists at Iowa State University. As reported by Julie Kelly in the Wall Street Journal, ISU students collected more than 57,000 signatures for a petition opposing human-feeding trials that paid $900 to students willing to eat fortified superbananas for four days. The superbananas contain copious amounts of beta carotene, which the human digestive system converts to Vitamin A – as in: the letter “A” that stands for “Absolutely necessary for preventing blindness and other inconvenient Third World problems not quite prevalent on the ISU West Lawn.

However, blindness, stunting and deaths resulting from Vitamin A deficiencies are prevalent in Uganda. Notes Kelly: “40 percent of children under age 5 are vitamin-A deficient, according to a 2011 health survey by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.” To which the ISU students respond: “Tough beans, no superbananas for you, Uganda.” The ISU students also submitted their petition to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “which is investing more than $2 billion to improve agriculture in the developing world, including through the banana project.”

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.”