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Charles Whithead

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Do you think Genetically Modified food (GM) is morally justifiable? How about the "Industrialisation" of food production?

We covered artificial selection today in Biology, and it got me thinking about the ethics of production. Animals like the Belgian blue cow are bred solely for their consumption as beef.

Expanding the topic, is it right to manufacture animals for food as we do in, say, battery farms?

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    Mar 3 2012: GMO's are the Pandora's Box being offered to the fearful people by profit engineers. This is when, we as the fearful, will learn that Hope, who was the last to emerge from the box is as, or most evil of the whole content of the box. In my opinion, GMO is not only immoral, it is criminal. We only need to google 'monsanto and 2,4,5,D, or T to understand where this is leading us. The organism's "natural" response to our un-natural manipulations is the proverbial slippery slope and before it is finished with our fooling around with genetics, all we will have left is Hope, and that is the worst of all places to find yourself.
    I was born and raised on a hard-scratch farm in Iowa, when the term husbandry still applied. A short time ago I was afforded the opportunity to return and work on a large scale factory farm where I witnessed, first hand, life on the "slope". Let me say in my humble opinion, we are in serious trouble with little, if no, way back. Our corporations are writing laws for our legislators and writing text books for our students, none of which are committed to truth. With a little effort you can find the truth. I hope for all the children on this earth you will all devote a small portion of your time to search for the answers to the question you ask today.
    Thank you, for bringing your inquiry to these pages. I, also, have many questions concerning our world and it's direction, but I lack the tactfulness to pose the questions without sounding as if I am condemning our society, and I wish never to insult or accuse anyone with my questions or answers, but I do sense an urgency to proclaim the truth.
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      Mar 3 2012: I don't think that the best way to form an opinion is by listening to sensationalist press. In any event, Monsanto might be pure evil, other companies using GMOs might be pure evil. That still would not make GMOs themselves immoral or criminal. It would be their misuse that would be immoral and/or criminal.

      Companies cannot impose their products onto farmers. I know of a lot of self0initiated people having their own farms, and they can start a movement towards engineered systems using whatever they want other than GMOs. Fine by me. I don't oppose GMOs, but I think we might not need them. So, if you think the same, and you are in the business of your own farm. Well, you have a place to start demonstrating that there are ways to have sustainable agriculture without GMOs and without the loads of pesticides. But do that well informed. Not because you think GMOs are evil (or even if so) because you are misinformed, but because you understand their limitations (they have limitations as they are today, but might improve later), and because you rather not use them, and because you prefer farmers to be self sustainable rather than dependent on big companies (which I applaud as a goal).

      The very near future will have a huge need for developed local economies. I doubt that GMOs would be the first thing to use there. Smallish companies, in agreement with and with the help of farmers, breeding varieties for this and that might suffice. But we will see.

      Textbooks don't say "GMOs are good, GMOs are good!" I teach at a University, and we don't declare that GMOs are the solution to the future. I prefer students to discuss stuff well informed, but don't give them pre-digested solutions, because those solutions don't exist. I don't think there is a perfect answer. But, again, I am inclined to think that we don't need GMOs. But I am very far from buying into the demonization of these products.
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        Mar 3 2012: Before we go any longer with this conversation, are you implying that I listen to sensationalistic press? Are you making assumptions about me from one answer to your post? Tell me, please, Gabo Moreno!
        The truth, I believe, is that I struck a nerve with my comments about corporate profiteers editing your school books.
        I am from Iowa, I work the farms, I know the condition of the animals, I know the people who are most familiar with the crops and if they see their children put a single seed into their mouth, they would rather slap it out then to risk the affects of GMO food in the digestive tract of someone they love.
        I know the bills that are now going through congress so that the seed manufacturers can apply half of the AGENT ORANGE formula on the corn because the GMO crops are building resistance to their paired herbicides and insecticides.
        You have insulted me with your presumptive nature, which I will assume is part of your learning practice at your university. Do you think I have bought into a demonization of our good people at DOW and MONSANTO?
        I will be happy to forward you actual bills in the senate and house where legislators bought and paid for by the chemical manufacturers and seed distributors are asking for permission to exploit the people by increasing the toxicity of herbicides and pesticides.
        Do you understand that with GMO's the seed line itself becomes a patented property of the hybrid manufacturers? And that farmers are being prosecuted for owning seeds with a patented trait. With cross-pollenation many crops will carry traits owned by another seed distributor and people will be playing heck in courts trying to defend themselves and being sued for no fault of their own.
        I will offer this, though, should you be interested in the facts I am talking about here I will be glad to tell you how I know the truth I speak of. e-mail me through the TED mail system. If not, that's okay, too. but please refrain thinking you know me.
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          Mar 4 2012: Tim,

          While I recognize that I might be very wrong about your sources, your answer still indicates alarmism, rather than knowledge. the thing about India I have heard it coming from famous sensationalist "news" portrayed by those kinds of groups who oppose anything they perceive as "unnatural." Extremists who don't care about accuracy in what they say, as long as it produces their desired effect. Everything you explain about farmers around you rather slapping seeds out of their kid's hands is emotional to the point of looking like an effect of misinformation. So how else should I perceive your sources but as sensationalism? I might be very wrong. It could be that you are a well trained scientist and have discovered that there is something to actually fear about splicing genes from one organism into another. Maybe you have actual statistics from your own community of livestock dying from eating GMO corn, maybe you really have a direct source to the dangers of GMOs. But it does not sound so. Also, I insist, misuse of technology does not mean that the technology itself is criminal. Your not differentiating between misuse and the technology makes me feel, again, that your sources are misinformation.

          As for bills. I completely trust you on that. I see it for many other things, thus why not misused technologies? I did not say you demonize monsanto and dow, I said I don't buy into demonizing GMOs, the technology. Farmers can easily demonstrate when their seeds have been contaminated by GMOs rather than having used illegal GMOs. This I know for a fact. I don't think that because a farmer is demanded by a big company the farmer has to be innocent. That has to be decided by the evidence, not by who we like better.

          Do companies push their stuff in even when it is crap? Yes. Does that mean that GMOs are evil? Nope.

          I could clarify a thing or two about your comments, but ran out of space, and I prefer one comment at a time.

          Best and my apologies if I got you all wrong.
      • Mar 5 2012: Companies do impose their products when pollen or spilled seed from GM plants arrive at your property and make themselves at home. Our laws protect the property rights of Monsanto and such but not the trespassed land owner.

        A law can protect you if there is a law but I do not believe law is keeping up with the issues. If you are a large corporation with money you can hire lawyers and influence law makers and those that administer the law. The corporation can make sure that laws that protect it and its property are in place. A recent suit bought by farmers trying to protect themselves preemptively from Monsanto suing them for having patented genes in their seed was dismissed. If pollen or wayward seed contaminates your seed crop then you are SOL and have to dump your crop. How is that just? If anything I have said is untrue or incomplete please correct me with verifiable fact.
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          Mar 5 2012: Well, I would think that companies don't want their precious and patented products to go astray. Most importantly if the correct use of their product depends on the genes not going anywhere else. This reminds me of a common complain against GMOs, that the seeds can be programmed to be infertile, which in turn would make contamination very hard. Yet, anti-GMO people will complain against this as well.

          Laws can protect anybody if you are able to make your case. Just see how many have put lawsuits against coffee companies because the coffee was hot (which is ridiculous). If that is possible, what would stop you from complaining that your plants got contaminated by undesirable genes? Of course, you would have to demonstrate that this happened, which is easy enough.
      • Mar 6 2012: Gosh, you would think but do you know? Why would Monsanto care where their genes go if they can sue anyone who has unauthorized possession of their genes regardless of how they were obtained. They are able to force farmers to give up saving their own seed which is great if you are a seed company. I agree that correct use depends on the genes not going off to uncharted territory but in the real world that is exactly what happens and one of the major arguments against GMO in plants and animals. I don't think anyone is upset that a GM seed would be infertile, the issue is the contamination of other seed stock with that genetic material. Then of course the concern is with all GM food that there are unintended consequences waiting to bite us and we need to proceed with great caution. Another problem is that the modification is made often to promote use of other toxic products which has a remarkable way of coming back to bite us as well.

        As to the law protection, I added to my original comment before it dawned on me how to reply to you here. Please read that. And I will add to what I said there to point out again that Monsanto has deep pockets and lots of lawyers. What is to stop you from suing? The cost of legal representation, the years of being tied up in a court battle, lack of effective law to support your suit, the likely loss of your land and livelihood are some things that might stop you. That is why people call Monsanto a bully.
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          Mar 6 2012: Keren,

          Of course a company would not want their patented genes to go anywhere. This is why they pay good money for genetic engineers developing technologies to prevent such things. It is not to their best interests to sue farmers because their genes contaminated the farmer's seeds. If they sue, they have to make sure that they can demonstrate that the genes ware stolen. It is too easy for a farmer to show photos and genetic results (which are easy, and become very cheap) showing the differences between her/his crops and the GMOs. Not only that, a sued farmer has to pay lawyers anyway, so why not contra-demand for the contamination, all expenses, aggravation, et cetera? The only way a farmer would lose such a battle is if the farmer actually stole the seeds. Companies know this.

          You say farmers united for a preemptive sue. I guess that is why it did not go far. Preemptive? That is so nebulous that it would be a hard case to present. But suing for actual damages to their seeds as in contaminated by the GMO company's genes? Sure thing. Easy to present and demonstrate. If lawyers like stupid ideas like suing a coffee company for the coffee being hot, why not a GMO company for contaminating our farmer's genetic heritage? Do you think that the coffee company has less money for lawyers than a GMO?

          So, if farmers can unite for a weird lawsuit, why not for a proper lawsuit?
      • Mar 6 2012: Let's take this one piece at a time. First let's talk about containment of modified genes. Are you saying that there has not been contamination. That there has been no pollen drift? That there have been no spilled seeds? That GM genes have not been spread through the use of common harvesters, transporters, processors, storage facilities? If you agree that there has been contamination do see this as a problem or no problem?
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          Mar 6 2012: Gabo said,"Of course a company would not want their patented genes to go anywhere. This is why they pay good money for genetic engineers developing technologies to prevent such things. It is not to their best interests to sue farmers because their genes contaminated the farmer's seeds. If they sue, they have to make sure that they can demonstrate that the genes ware stolen. It is too easy for a farmer to show photos and genetic results (which are easy, and become very cheap) "

          Gabo, with all due respect, please do the required research before repeating these assumptions. I know to you they seem to be logically applied to morally responsible people and corporations.....however, and therefore, clear your mind of all previously sworn doctrine and with a very receptive ear and heart try to weigh the sensible, yet sinister, perspective I am about to introduce to you. DOW and MONSANTO, primarily with many other criminals included, do want the cross pollenation, in fat, they deliberately flooded the mexican seed corn market with their gmo products. Until this had happened Mexico owned the worlds most diverse number of native corn in the worldd, which has been producing fine with out all the herbicides and pesticides, some of the seed had been passed down through thousands of years by the generations before them. You see, these native people consider these seeds to be family, and like the native americans they refer to the seeds of squash, corn and beans as the three sisters. Planted in the same mound they protected each other from improper pH balance in the soil, insects that repelled by one stayed away from them all. Now this unique arrangement had life for them and all previous generations and it did not go unnoticed among them. They literally understand these plants are their parents, their cousins, grandparents, and children, no more and no less than the human counterparts of their very own families. They had no use for DOW or any one else, but ...continued below
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          Mar 8 2012: Hi Karen,

          Of course there must have been contamination. Of course I don't love the idea of contamination. But, there has always been cross-pollination among any farmed varieties and naturally-occurring ones. Only now we can detect the contamination with certainty because of the foreign genes. Do I think that the foreign genes are worse than contamination otherwise? Nope. They are just as bad. In any of those cases there is a risk of reducing genetic diversity in nature because farmed varieties would contribute most of the gene-stock, thus risking the loss of gene richness in the environment. That these are GMOs makes no difference. It is farming practices that is the problem. I would venture that, while undesirable, that these genes escaped allow us to calculate the rates of dispersion in ways that we could not do before, thus allowing us to calculate the actual rick posed by farming on natural varieties.
      • Mar 9 2012: Gabo, You've given me something to think about with your reply. it doesn't address the legal, political, economic, and health issues or even fully address contamination but it does make me think more specifically about the effects of gene contamination. As a seed producer one has to avoid contamination from not just GM, but all potential cross breeders within a certain range. If you are growing beet seed and your neighbor is letting different beets or chard flower across the fence you have a problem. But your neighbor is not going to sue you for the free contamination they provided so at least you don't have that worry. And they probably aren't growing pharmaceuticals spliced into the chard,....... or are they? Well, you are right, there are plenty of other issues of concern. Thank you for your responses , I hope we can converse about this on some other related topic in the future.
    • Mar 3 2012: Stating that a farm always has the choice in the modern world to avoid genetically modified food I think is inaccurate. The profit margin, and turnaround of genetically modified products is a driving part of there appeal and when you are faced with your livelihood being coupled with a product you do not appreciate or desire to produce, emotions increase. Do you ask your steak how long it was a cow before eating it? Or how many harvest of wheat do you want to make a year? A lot of the farmers I know grow two different crops, because most people don't ask the same questions as they ask.
      In the process of modern farming we can change a lot of aspects of the food we eat in a variety of ways at certain alternative cost.
      Having animals that produce more animal growth hormone might speed up our genetic clock too.
      Having factory like production might change some gene representation and affect the quality.
      Having pigs with less genetic diversity has made disease a bigger perceived threat.
      Changing the structures of wheat or soy might affect some of our ability to digest the products.
      On the flip side with climate less regular in the past couple years, having a crop that can withstand higher heat in the mid-west and requires less moisture would have greatly affected your ability to stay in business.
      Most avocados in the United States come from a single genetic change from one mother tree.
      We genetically make selections based of phenotypes for our pets, some of which I think are highly unethical creating a pet that has trouble breathing it's whole life, but in general I don't think the process of trying to solve food problems is unethical, just some of the practices legitimately place different premiums on different values. The food value pillars I see are sustainability, quantity, nutritional values, cost, sale price. Corporations and people see these in different light often.
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        Mar 4 2012: Hi Grant,

        I don't think that it is inaccurate to say that farmers have options, but I agree with most of what you said. Farmers look at these problems differently than I do. But I know farmers who want to produce "organic" stuff. All fine by me. It must have been very hard in the beginning. Organic food was very expensive, and very low quality, getting all mouldy within a few days. I used to say, I rather eat the one with pesticides than the one with all-natural aflatoxins. Now things are different, and farmers have found ways to protect their "organic" produce and improve quality and shelf-life. Though I think there is much better room for local economies than for economies of scale. Anyway. People are inclined to buy into sensationalism, thus a farmer who can say I use no GMOs (with proper regulations on what you can call such), could have less product, but sell for a slight higher price.

        Anyway. I think there is a need for a lot of education. My problem with GMOs is exactly the same problem with no GMOs produced for economies of scale. Too much genetic uniformity and the risks associated. A farmer might make lots more money using a genetically uniform thing because he can harvest with a machine and such, but might lose everything is some plague kills his whole product.

        Can we do something about it? I think so, but I don't think there is a definitive answer for these questions. My position though is that research in every direction should not stop. GMOs, engineered ecosystems using only "natural" stuff, whatever.

        Best.
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        Mar 6 2012: but, DOW and other criminals had use for them. The seed banks were flooded with gmo hybrids which went unnoticed until later on in the growing year when the crops were not performing as hardy as usual. After looking for answers the farmers realized their native seeds had been deliberately MOLESTED and now were containing modified genes that required herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers that they have never needed before, but now their crops will not survive without them. Oh yes, it can even get worse than this! Throughout time and several seasons, as their corn and weeds and insects grow tolerance, and resistance for one another they will have to continually up the dosage of very expensive chemicals to put on the ground to protect their corn that use to do well on its own. They are witnessing the murder of their family members, the three sisters. And who must they turn to now in order to protect this mutant monster growing in their fields? The SAME criminals that illicitly raped their sisters and bore mutant seed with their gmo products are the same criminals that own the patents on the chemicals they now have to depend on to have a crop. I really don't have the time , knowledge or patience to completely bring you up to date. They did the same to the rice farmers in Cambodia, Loas, and Vietnam. It has been going on for along time, in many countries. You don't hear about it here because people here are all about profit and not love, respect and truth. I realise you maybe experiencing something very tramatic to the established paradigms of all you think and believe about this country, I know, I suffered many years ago. It is similar to the stages of terminal disease, denial, anger, acceptance and depression. Not necessarily in that order, but will necessarily occur if you connect with this truth. In my life, I refer to it as "shattered illusions", I am not the happy boy growing up on a self subsistent, hard scratch farm in Iowa. Terminally sad..
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      Mar 6 2012: Hi Tim, long time no see.

      I want to thank you also for your insight.

      It seems to me, and I'm no farmer, but I am a reader.....that those with the money, and power, and the connections pretty much always get their way.....I see the danger in what is happening.

      Many of my friends who came from living on self-sustaining family farms are at a loss here in the city.

      We have some families who have turned their back yards into mini fields and grow everything from tomatoes and peppers, to plantains, and pigeon peas. There are even a few chickens running around...although that is against city codes....but many of us wonder about what we are eating.

      It seems harder and harder to know what is IN our foods.

      I have always dreamed of living on a farm. My husband grew up on one.
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        Mar 7 2012: Hello Mary, it is good to be back. I really fell into a quagmire of anxt (sp) and anger with society in general and I was determined not to taint this community of the TED family. Spending time with you all is a pleasure that I never want to take for granted. It is true, you don't necessarily have to walk in another's shoes to know how life is. We can read or submerse ourselves in thought and contemplation with a receptive heart and allow the truth of the matter to recognize us as one who honors truth and we see lucidly what seemed cloudy before.
        Many people on the farms see in the future that Monsanto will eventually take control of all the agriculture. Once everyone is dependant on the seed and chemicals of these pioneering GMO solicitors and their patented remedies for the health of the crops then they will tell the landowners that now you will sign a contract with us and all the seed and chemicals is ours, as will be the crop production and you will farm how and what we decide or you will not have seed..Honestly, my collective intellect agrees this is a real possibility.
        As I mentioned above, the Hopi and Tibetan elders are advising us to the protection of our children. Their advice due to the late stages of this opposition we are facing is brief and to the point. I have been told to teach my children to tend their gardens and to learn how to purify water. This is a conscience rocking thought, but nevertheless, one that may make all the difference in the world for the generations yet to arrive.
        It is nice to hear from you, I hope we speak again, soon. Tim
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      Mar 8 2012: Tim,

      About GMOs and Mexico, well, I am Mexican, and I know a few research centres in Mexico working with corn, and reality if very far from what you are saying. Several research centres have seeds from many "natural" (I don't think we can call any corn natural because it does not look at all like the wild type corn relatives) varieties, we have blue corn, and other corns.

      Regardless, corn production has not been good enough in Mexico since a long time ago. Mostly because it depends on rain seasons coming on time, and other such factors. Technology is not very affordable for farmers. Poverty is the main problem. Poverty, ignorance, and lack of proper support. GMOs have nothing to do with problems of production. It is more about it being a hard life with too little in return.

      So, Mexico has imported lots of corn for many years. Many more than the commercialization of GMOs. Sad but true. With farmers in the USA now selling corn for fuel, Mexico is in big trouble. Corn is much more expensive.

      So, seems like it is now a combination of poverty, energy crisis, and lots of politics. But not GMOs.

      Don't worry about having being aggressive with me. I often am much more aggressive. So no problem.

      Best,
      -Gabo
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        Mar 8 2012: TED community does not appreciate alot of links in the conversations because of the cost of bandwidth. I have alot of respect for these people and I feel I am taking advantage of their kindness by posting these. As I stated earlier, I leave my home before six each morning to work and sometimes, like tonight, I returned at 9 pm. I don't mean to imply I have no time for our conversation but I also have a life, too. I am slightly embarrassed for you because you insist on trying to attain the bragging rights in this discussion, yet you have done little research to strengthen your position. Now you tell me you are a son of Mexico and you know little of what has been happening to them. Being a teacher or professor, as you are, I think you should have plenty of time to look this up on your own. I make time because I love the people and I am uncomfortable without trying my best to know how they are doing.
        Here is what you said, "So, seems like it is now a combination of poverty, energy crisis, and lots of politics. But not GMOs."
        Please google, GMO corn and Mexico. Read a few of the 3,400,000 articles. Some of them are even from Reuters and US NEWS, schools love those news agencies, don't they? I apologise to TED for links. no more
        http://youtu.be/ugs0tSXLIWE
        www.organicconsumers.org/corn/Cached - SimilarYou +1'd this publicly. UndoIn Mexico researchers have detected widespread contamination of traditional varieties of corn, caused by surreptitious imports of genetically engineered corn ...
        www.truthout.org/121208DCachedYou +1'd this publicly. UndoDec 11, 2008 – GMO Contamination in Mexico's Cradle of Corn Researchers who conducted a study confirming the presence of transgenes in Mexico's ...
        motherjones.com/blue.../yes-its-true-gmos-contaminate-mexican-cor...CachedYou +1'd this publicly. UndoYes, It's True: GMOs Contaminate Mexican Corn. —By Josh Harkinson. | Tue Feb . 24, 2009 10:16 AM PST. Tweet. Ignacio Chapela In April 2002, I sat in the ...
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          Mar 8 2012: Tim,

          As I said, I am from there, I still go there, and I know the people there. I did not say there is no contamination. Apparently, a low proportion of samples have been found to have GMO-originated genes. I have no reason to doubt that this can happen. I doubt though that these genes cause low production. My issue is that GMOs have nothing to do with the situation in Mexico. I know because all of my life I have seen how farmers live in my country. Extreme poverty comes to mind. All of my life I have known that the problems for farmers producing corn are many, besides poverty, they can't sell the corn too high (listed as basic food thus controlled price, which also seems necessary, otherwise people would not have money to buy their basic food, vicious circle there). A good harvest depends on the weather being friendly, rain coming right on time, not stopping too soon, nor too late, hopefully no pests. There is no technology, or not a lot, because that costs, and there is little help. So, again, poverty and politics. GMOs have nothing to do with it.

          I also happen to know researchers there. Again, not too much money, but they protect germplasm, they collect germplasm, they work and analyze corn seeds, long et cetera. Farmers and research centres have seeds, and lots of varieties.

          I know these things myself. Not through news, not through any third sources. Directly. GMOs might be the devil if you want to think so. Their genes might be designed to destroy other varieties if you want to think so. Still, that does not mean that GMOs are the reason for production problems in Mexico. They are not.

          Best

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