I have been following the genetically modified crop debate since the early days of the controversy. I have talked to advocates on both sides of the issue and personally interviewed Arpad Pusztai, a world renowned expert on lectins and researcher from the Rowett Institute. His findings and personal comments on the BBC caused doubt about the harmlessness of GM foods. But this debate has a new life with the recent release of information by the BBC that genetically modified pigs are being developed here in Ontario.
As I read the article, I felt that the journalist had fully bought into “this is progress….and you can’t stop progress” point-of-view of many scientists. The premise behind that idea is that, “if it can be done, it should be done”.
Thirty years ago, coal-fired generating plants were lauded by scientists as the “cheap” solution to our energy needs. A whole host of perspectives were ignored in that debate. Warnings were dismissed and today we realize that just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. Apparently, it isn’t very difficult to get an “expert” to support just about any point-of-view if the right people want to promote it.
The BBC article makes two “value statements” for the “enviropig”, as they call it. The first is that these pigs don’t excrete phosphorous and are more environmentally friendly because they don’t cause overgrowth in our waterways. Phosphorous is a fertilizer. Nothing was said about where the phospherous goes and how it may affect the others systems in the pig – I am sure they don’t know. Even more interestingly, the writer did not mention the company who is responsible for this “amazing” pig (sic). Monsanto has built its “name” on such products as PCBs, Agent Orange (a cancer causing defoliant used by the US in the Viet Nam war), Aspartame (through Searle) and genetically modified corn, cotton, and other crops. No one company has more environmental failures than Monsanto.
The second value statement is that this enviropig “may” be helpful in feeding the increasing world population. Of course, that is based on people eating pork, which among the poor of this world, is not possible. In addition, growing crops to feed animals for meat is highly inefficient. Growing “people” food directly is a far more efficient and realistic way to feed the world. Furthermore, in 2nd and 1st world countries, increased cancer rates and heart disease are thought to be in part attributed to the high meat content in our diet. So the “we can save the world by feeding more people with GM pigs” wouldn’t go very far in an intelligent argument.
The even bigger question, also not mentioned in the BBC article, was: who owns this pig? Will Monsanto eventually own all pigs? If you look at Monsanto vs Schmeiser, Monsanto prosecuted the Schmeiser family for having GM Canola on their property without a license. Schmieser asserted he did not plant the crop but that his crop was contaminated by a neighbour’s GM Canola. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court who supported Monsanto’s claim to ownership of the modified “life form” no matter where it is found or how it got there. Hence, the settlement with the Schmiesers for damages in 2004. However, the question remains: if Monsanto owns the pig that they only modified and did not create, will they act responsibly and provide it to the starving masses at a price they can afford – I rather doubt it!! Corporations are inhuman. They try to make as much money as possible, any way they can. In most cases, their morality is greed and because of that they are in direct conflict with the goals of governments and the rest of humanity.
Some would argue that what Monsanto is doing is not new. That every hybrid plant is genetically modified. However, there is a world of difference between the natural process of plants and animals evolving and scientists firing gene guns at the plant’s DNA and forcing unnatural change that would not happen any other way. If these plants weren’t significantly different, then on what do they base their patent and right to ownership?
These are only a few of the very serious implications attached to genetically modified life forms for which there has been only superficial public debate in Canada and the US. The implications of GM foods are huge on many “fronts”, not to mention the more complicated question: are they truly safe to eat? Since there are experts on both sides of that argument, it comes down to: which expert are you going to believe? The question then becomes: should people have the right to know they are eating GM food? Monsanto and Health Canada say, “NO”. In spite of the overwhelming polls in favour of right-of-choice, Health Canada has done nothing. Can we trust government agencies and scientists (experts) to make the decisions for us? History has proven otherwise. Each of us must be informed and act accordingly and have the freedom to choose. There is an election coming soon – maybe someone will listen to the voice of the people.
BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12113859
National Film Board of Canada – The World According To Monsanto