Tuesday, March 26, 2013

GMOs: A Moral Dilemma?

People in Hawaii, where I live, are very protective of what makes Hawaii "paradise." Nature rules here.  Active and vocal environmentalists put up a strong and persistent fight to anything that threatens Hawaii's natural habitat.

Hawaii's environmental activism, unfortunately, has not always been as strong as it is these days.  Many were not aware when several decades ago, producers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)  descended on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. The huge companies set up shop  on 40-60 acres of land leased by the King Kamehameha school system, the biggest private land owner in Hawaii with about 360,000 acres scattered among the Hawaiian chain of islands.  Today, Hawaii is one of the biggest exporters of genetically modified seeds of corn, soybeans, sunflower,  and papaya.

So what's the big deal about GMOs?

Advocates, like  Microsoft multibillionaire Bill Gates who in 2010  supposedly bought 500,000 shares of US-based Monsanto Corporation (one of the world's  leading producer and exporter of  pesticides, herbicides and GMO seeds), claim that genetically engineered seed varieties can solve world hunger.

"If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. We believe that it's possible for small farmers to double and in some cases even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land," news agency Agence France Press quoted Gates as saying before a forum of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) held  February last year in Rome.

Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, another GMO advocate, professor at Cornell University and former head of the International  Food Policy Research Institute,  said in an interview during  a lecture at Sydney University in Australia: "Imagine if a drought-tolerant maize variety could be developed and the farmer could grow that. That way when the drought comes there will be something to eat because the drought-tolerant crop variety will produce something."

On the other hand, anti-GMO activists debunk Gates' claim. According to them, biotech companies promote GMOs not because of any desire to help but to reap huge profits.

Multi-awarded health diet author John Robbins says: "GM technology permits companies to ensure that everything we eat is owned by them. They can patent the seeds and the processes which give rise to them. They can make sure that crops can't be grown without their patented chemicals. They can prevent seeds from reproducing themselves. By buying up competing seed companies and closing them down, they can capture the food market, the biggest and most diverse markets of all."

Some say that since genetic engineering is a relatively new and still unproven technology, the use of modified seeds could have a huge adverse impact on the environment and even on human health.

Farmers in Kauai say that children in a school that abuts a GMO farm have fallen ill due to huge amounts of chemical residues in the air.  In Canada where genetically engineered Canola is grown, farmers call Canola  a "Superweed." The plant is resistant to herbicides and takes over other plants.

The breeding ability of GMOs has also become a cause for alarm. Anti-GMO scientists speculate about the possible impact on ecology once GMOs cross-pollinate with other plants in the wild.

Still, others say that instead of GMOs the solution to hunger in poverty-wracked countries lies in the provision of  infrastructure, like roads and irrigation systems, that will help farmers grow and market their produce.

Opponents of GMO  in the US have called for the labeling of genetically modified food -- a practice already in place in other countries like Japan, China, the United Kingdom and the EU but which was recently turned down by the Hawaii legislature.   At least, consumers will be given options whether or not to consume a vegetable or fruit that has been genetically altered.

But having a choice of food to eat is a luxury that not everyone enjoys.

In places like Darfur, people just  simply need something to eat.

Here are links to an article about GMOs and to a video about its propagation in Hawaii:

- Ariel Murphy


  1. WOW !! I know we have talked about this some, Ariel...but you did some great research here. Very Well Done !! I understand the "moral dilemma" about feeding the poor, but still wonder at what cost to civilization in the longer term. It seems like Monsanto (the usual corporate & money motives here) have become the goose that has laid their "Golden Egg" (or the gift that keeps on giving)to keep on reaping profits not caring about the future of even their own families, much less of the young families raising children, a group to which I have never belonged. And the Bill & Linda Gates Foundation, although having enlightened me by their supposed accomplishmnets, make me wonder if I'm just being gullible here also. A statement Bill Gates made in an interview that I watched (and now I have to search for it again)was that the only way this world will survive is to REDUCE it's population ! That really seemed in stark contrast to his feed the poor statements to save civilization. Maybe I have mis-judged Mr. Gates as I have Monsanto when I used Roundup in Florida. You sure did an excellent job on this one ! Keep up the good work! Have I left the frying pan of Florida only to jump into the fire of Hawaii?

    1. Thank you Peter. There are other important information I could have included in my blog, e.g., Congress passing a rider in the budget bill that puts biotech companies above the law, but I was afraid I'll lose people's attention span if the blog is too long.

      There are fires burning anywhere you go Pete. They are all over. The problem is we try to put out fires only to create another. Paradoxical!

  2. The dilemma is that poor people remain hungry and poor as the so called advocates of eradicating poverty and famine protect their interests in the big corporations. I could go in with this point but much had been said already. Reality is money crushes poverty not eradicates it ,hence doing something about betterment of less fortunate is against powers to be. Poverty is a necessity for the existence of power.

    1. You're right +John E.Doe C. But what are we supposed to do? A lot of people are not even aware of what are going on. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Well done, Ariel!!! Dense and condensed. Just as you said - you walked the knife's edge between too much info, and too little! You've worked magic with your research, and the distillation of your knowledge into something that can be comprehended by a simpleton such as me.
    I have a little trouble with cognitive dissonance here.
    On the one hand, I'm in awe of the advances scientists make everyday in their research. How they can discover and explain what we once viewed as natural processes, or even miracles. Unraveling the mysteries of the universe, and turning those mysteries into tools to be used in a laboratory, and applied with an aplomb and confidence that we once ascribed only to high priests and medicine men. To enhance man's understanding of himself, and his universe. From this viewpoint, I cannot help but be in awe of the things we're learning about recombinatant DNA, and the possible benefits that will bring to mankind in the future.
    On the other hand. My all-too-human being takes over and I fear...what if we unleash some terrible, unforeseen catastrophe? What if we find out, two generations later, that we've made the human race sterile? And how can something that I don't understand, and don't know how to do, possibly be any good for mankind?
    On the other hand (yes, I AM genetically modified)...Do I trust the scientific method enough to put my faith in it? That would be a resounding "Yes!". If I can convince myself that some ethereal, spiritual being actually became human, died, and was reborn - without ever having seen any evidence of such an event, I can surely take the leap of faith necessary to say that the theories scientists posit and prove are going to be of benefit to our universe, as well.
    Does that stop me from being jealous of the smarty-pants crowd that's figured out how to make a fortune off my ignorance? No. Do I want to see suffering, hunger, and starvation eliminated? Yes. Do I expect it to happen in my lifetime? No. Do I have the wherewithal to make it happen? No.
    But I'm glad I live in a time and a world where those mechanisms exist. And I'm thankful there are those willing to try. And I'm thankful there are those willing to try and explain all this stuff, Ariel.

  4. Believe it or not Paul, I have the same cognitive dissonance you have and which is why the title of the blog includes the word "moral dilemma." Like you I I celebrate science's continuing ability to try to find a solution to the challenges we face in an our ever changing world. I think it laudable that, at the very least, we make an attempt to take steps towards improvement instead of not doing anything. But at some point I think we all need to ask ourselves whether our "new technologies" are better than our traditional ways of doing things and if, in fact we are able to make any difference at all. My fear is that in advancing our "new technologies" we may find out eventually that we had shot ourselves in the foot.

    I really appreciate your candor and the fact that you have made your position clear. Sadly, some wouldn't even be bothered or are too stuck to even think. Thank you!