The ethics of GMOs and Schmeat

Scientific discovery seems to be making huge advances all over the world right now and it’s very exciting. With some of these advances, we have a responsibility to dabble with questions of human ethics, though. I remember the scene in one of the Jurassic Park movies where Jeff Goldblum’s character posed the question “Just because we can, does it mean that we should?” and anyone who has seen the movie(s) can answer that with a fair amount of certainty.

Woman Looking at Vegetables in RefrigeratorThis question can also be directed at the current debates about the Monsanto corporation and their seemingly unethical business practices with their GMO products. While I don’t necessarily have a problem with testing and a possible introduction of GMO foods into the marketplace, I’m not so sure we should be doing it in such a high volume just yet. It seems to me that many items approved by the FDA are done so a bit prematurely and the general public is exposed to some of these items as a kind of large-scale product test. Even if that isn’t the true intention and everyone involved truly believes these products to be safe.

We cannot continue this cycle of allowing the FDA to approve an item for market, flooding the industry and several years later invoking a recall with a payoff to the ‘victims’ as a virtual “Oops, my bad”. That’s just socially irresponsible to not only us, but to all life on this planet. We have to stop acting as if we are the only species that these things effect.

Colony collapse is a very real thing happening in the world right now and we won’t survive as a species if we don’t figure out how this is happening. Many people believe it’s caused by the introduction of GMO agriculture. I’m not quite sure I’m thoroughly convinced that’s completely accurate, but until we know for sure, there should be a suspension of Monsanto-style business practices until a large-scale, closed-environment test can be conducted. This would be expensive, no doubt, but don’t we piss away millions of dollars on military funding every day? Let’s redirect these funds to something productive for once, shall we?

The newest in these questions is the possible introduction of Schmeat into the possibly-near-future-marketplace. Schmeat has so many different questions right now and I’m actually excited for positive and negative reasons around the idea of it. My list of thoughts on this include:

  •  Has this meat been genetically modified in any way or has it been simply grown from a natural style of cell-division? And if it had been genetically modified, has there been testing on how these modifications can affect human cells when consumed? I mean, I’m not really a fan of the idea of being forced to eat Soylent Green.
  • animal abuseI like the idea of saving animals from the abusive lifestyle of the slaughterhouse, but have to question if, in time, there would be a watering-down of the nutritional value of Schmeat through years and years of reproduction. Can it withstand the test of time from being re-grown from a certain base of cells or will it lose the natural potency of nutrition after years of not having ‘eaten’ from natural means?
  • clepsydra_urban_farming_vlbrcThis would be a highly expensive process to implement into the marketplace anyway, so shouldn’t we continue to test the effects of this on the human body while at the same time trying to introduce practices of vertical farming in order to sustain the amount of food that we need to keep feeding the people and animals of the world? I understand that so much agricultural space is lost to growing food just for slaughterhouse animals, so why not grow vertically rather than horizontally?
  • Should we even be concerned with the idea of what a meat industry corporation thinks of these practices? If it turns out to be the best option for us environmentally and ethically, should we even bother with considering their economic point of view? Yes, I do understand that this could put many slaughterhouses out of business and therefore leave many people unemployed, but that’s a problem of capitalism and we really need to consider what is right before what is determined by is in our wallets.

Little green pieces of paper determine the end result of too many questions of ethics in our global society and we really need to stop looking at decisions through the eyes of economics and start looking at them through the eyes of ethics. This is the change that will determine whether we have done the proper amount of research on a particular subject before introducing it to the general public and to our ecosystem.

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8 Responses to The ethics of GMOs and Schmeat

  1. Pingback: The ethics of GMOs and SchmeatSoylent | full-nutrition drink | Soylent | full-nutrition drink

  2. brent says:

    I believe GMO’s have a lot of potential to do great things for feeding the world. I am particularly optimistic that some simple genetic engineering can solve the naturally occurring problem of high arsenic concentrations in rice in much of South and Southeast Asia. I am also bullish on the potential of GMOs to vastly reduce the amount of nasty toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that farmers currently use.

    But I also think it’s totally reasonable to clearly label GM food and I believe (this is faith speaking, not empirical market research) that consumers will accept labeled GM products, and are likely to accept them more readily if they feel they can control their exposure.

    Go look at research on risk perception from the 1970s and 80s (Chauncey Starr, Paul Slovic, Sarah Lichtenstein, Baruch Fischhoff, Howard Kunreuther, etc.) on the fact that people fear something much more if it’s invisible, unknown, and involuntary. If you make something very visible and give people the sense that they can see whether they’re eating GM foods and can control whether do so, I would guess that GM foods would then lose most of their scare factor, at least in the US.

    As for colony collapse disorder, the explanatory fear narrative began to change in 2006, when new waves of bee deaths were reported around the world. Anti-biotechnology activists blamed GMOs. “There are many reasons given to the decline in Bees, but one argument that matters most is the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and “Terminator Seeds” that are presently being endorsed by governments and forcefully utilized as our primary agricultural needs of survival,” argued the anti-globalization group Global Research, in what amounted to a rhetorical and circumstantial argument. But as GMOs have gained favor with the science community, the focus of activist groups shifted and a new culprit was identified: neonicotinoids.

    All of my sources are science based and I find it hard to talk to people (I’m not sure you are one of them) who use non-scientific, biased sources like natural news and organic authority. Then natural-organic groups can be just as bad, if not worse, than the monsanto corp. False information propagated for the sole reason of business is bad on either side of the line.

    • 1oddpapa says:

      I definitely don’t consider myself an anti-biotechnology activist, but I would consider myself as more of a naturalist. I think the Earth has plenty of room for vertical farming which can produce enough food for our rapidly growing population AND animals as well, so why should we be in such a rush to implement GMO’s on a grand scale. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I do think there could be a place for GM foods and possible even GM humans (GASP! – did he really just say that?) in the future, but I think we just need to take a step back and allow some 3rd party, unbiased (for OR against) on the products first. I’m not thoroughly convinced that GMOs are a cause of colony collapse, either, but until there is a more defined answer, I don’t know if I can discount it.

      I do try to keep myself informed to the best of my ability, but I also know that sometimes I can fall victim to a pretty sound argument when trying to sort through all the noise. I really don’t ever want to be accused of bias confirmation on any subject, but sometimes I guess it can be unavoidable when there is so much misinformation and search engines drive results on popularity & economics (both of which are absolutely biased), rather than unbiased truths. Maybe you might have a few sources that I haven’t been able to find yet?

  3. brent says:

    Here are some links that I thought of off the top of my head. I’m sure you could google more. Food for thought?

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/10/18/163034053/top-five-myths-of-genetically-modified-seeds-busted

    http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/genetically-modified-organisms-gmos-transgenic-crops-and-732

    http://www.npr.org/2013/01/20/169847199/former-anti-gmo-activist-says-science-changed-his-mind

    Anti-gmo advocates try to propagate fear of genetically modified crops and food. Marchers will preach all manner of what they perceive as proof of the dangers of GM crops and food. Unfortunately the web is full of misinformation designed to scare not to educate. The marchers’ fear is real but the reasons behind the fear are not.

    The real science says something very different.

    “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.” (WHO)

    Every single world food safety authority that has examined the data on food containing GM ingredients has come to the same conclusion of its safety. The American Association for the Advancement of Science said it very well:

    “Moreover, the AAAS Board said, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and “every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.” (AAAS 2012)

    An excellent example of pseudo-science that has convinced many people of the alleged dangers of GM crops was published last year in France by a well-known anti-GMO institution. It garnered huge airplay in the media and on the web.

    When the marchers hold up pictures of rats with tumors, this publication is the source. However, when examined by world health authorities, the publication was quickly and completely dismissed as poor science.

    Over 25 years of research has failed to find any harm from GM technology. Even the GMO skeptical European science agrees on the safety of these crops and food.

    “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies…Now, after 25 years of field trials without evidence of harm, fears continue to trigger the Precautionary Principle. But Europeans need to abandon this knowingly one-sided stance and strike a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of the technology on the basis of scientifically sound risk assessment analysis. (EC 2011)

    I think being cautious is a good idea, but to what length of time? I found it interesting that you desire unbiased third parties, but I’ve posted some and quoted others. 90% + of current science directly contradicts some (not all mind you) of what you’ve stated above. I can tell you’re a smart guy from your website, but beware of fear propagated under the guise of science.

  4. B.Walsh says:

    I agree with Brent, vertical farming can’t be the only method to help feed the hungry and I think OddPapa misses the mark on why gmo foods are important. Think about it: The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. GM foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:

    Pest resistance-Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Farmers typically use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Consumers do not wish to eat food that has been treated with pesticides because of potential health hazards, and run-off of agricultural wastes from excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers can poison the water supply and cause harm to the environment. Growing GM foods such as B.t. corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market.

    Herbicide tolerance-For some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process, that requires care so that the herbicide doesn’t harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants genetically-engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed. For example, Monsanto has created a strain of soybeans genetically modified to be not affected by their herbicide product Roundup 6. A farmer grows these soybeans which then only require one application of weed-killer instead of multiple applications, reducing production cost and limiting the dangers of agricultural waste run-off
    .
    Disease resistance-There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases.

    Cold tolerance-Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings. (Note: I have not been able to find any journal articles or patents that involve fish antifreeze proteins in strawberries, although I have seen such reports in newspapers. I can only conclude that nothing on this application has yet been published or patented.)

    Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance-As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.

    Nutrition-Malnutrition is common in third world countries where impoverished peoples rely on a single crop such as rice for the main staple of their diet. However, rice does not contain adequate amounts of all necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences have created a strain of “golden” rice containing an unusually high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A). Since this rice was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, a non-profit organization, the Institute hopes to offer the golden rice seed free to any third world country that requests it. Plans were underway to develop a golden rice that also has increased iron content. However, the grant that funded the creation of these two rice strains was not renewed, perhaps because of the vigorous anti-GM food protesting in Europe, and so this nutritionally-enhanced rice may not come to market at al.

    Pharmaceuticals-Medicines and vaccines often are costly to produce and sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in third world countries. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes. These vaccines will be much easier to ship, store and administer than traditional injectable vaccines.

    Phytoremediation-Not all GM plants are grown as crops. Soil and groundwater pollution continues to be a problem in all parts of the world. Plants such as poplar trees have been genetically engineered to clean up heavy metal pollution from contaminated soil.

    GM foods are a useful tool—and as scientists develop next-generation GM crops, like the long awaited vitamin A-infused Golden Rice, they have the potential to become even more useful. The problems we face in feeding ourselves are very real—out of the 7 billion people on this planet, 1 billion are chronically hungry and an additional 1 billion people are malnourished because their diets lack vital micronutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A. We’re likely to add another 2 billion or so people over the next 40 years—driving demand for food up a predicted 40% by 2030. And here’s the real challenge: we need to grow that additional food without using up much more land, because we’re already near the 15% of the Earth’s surface that can sustainably be used for farming.

    So anything that can increase farming efficiency—the amount of crops we can produce per acre of land—will be extremely useful. GM crops can and almost certainly will be part of that suite of tools, but so will traditional plant breeding, improved soil and crop management—and perhaps most important of all, better storage and transport infrastructure, especially in the developing world. (It doesn’t do much good for farmers in places like sub-Saharan Africa to produce more food if they can’t get it to hungry consumers.) I’d like to see more non-industry research done on GM crops—not just because we’d worry less about bias, but also because the Monsantos and Pioneers of the world shouldn’t be the only entities working to harness genetic modification. I’d like to see GM research on less commercial crops, like maize, cassava and cowpea. I don’t think it’s vital to label GM ingredients in food, but I also wouldn’t be against it—and industry would be smart to go along with labeling, just as a way of defusing fears about the technology.

    Most of all, though, I wish a tenth of the energy that’s spent endlessly debating GM crops was focused on those more pressing challenges for global agriculture. There are much bigger battles to fight.

    • 1oddpapa says:

      In a closed-environment vertical farm, there is no need for pesticides such as Round Up. They are basically skyscraper greenhouses. Insect exposure could be easily controlled to utilize only insects that promote plant growth (such as worms), so pesticide resistance then becomes futile. I do understand that GMOs can have a place in the market in the future, but we can’t say that vertical farming wouldn’t be enough until it is actually TRIED. Nobody will ever convince me that we should allow Monsanto to keep conducting business as usual because they have proven themselves to use every unethical business practice they can to increase their bottom line (ethics and legality are separate issues).
      My point, if you would take time to read it and actually think about what I said, is that we cannot let companies like Monsanto just have free reign on the agricultural market. There need to be more restricting laws put into place and we have to get this right BEFORE allowing GMOs to have a major stake in agriculture.
      People are concerned about the effects of GMOs on the environment and their health.
      People are concerned about why Monsanto is so forceful about having their products used in such volume while also trying to monopolize research of their products.
      These are valid concerns and until all of those questions can be put to rest once and for all, we should look at regulating Monsanto’s business practices while also labeling GMO products at stores. Brent has a great point of people having the control of choice and I’m sure if Monsanto would just stop trying to fight the labeling of GMOs, they would see that many people would probably choose to buy their products anyway. It’s really that simple.
      Clear awareness and options are the 2 things that consumers want the most and if Monsanto tries to eliminate that in the interest of increasing their bottom line, this debate will continue until the public sees their company dismantled. You don’t fight against the people, you educate them and show them why it is that you do what you do.
      The rapid increase in population is a problem of it’s own accord and we don’t need to get into that right now, but if we concentrate more on directing funds to build vertical farms, we have the potential to produce millions of pounds of food per acre, rather than thousands.
      That is more sustainable to the world than just trying to keep veggies from rotting or from being eaten by bugs

  5. Anonymous says:

    very interesting

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