By Federico José Caeiro (h)
Genetic manipulation implies that components of DNA from, for example, scorpions, are implanted in that of vegetables and fruits.
If mad cow disease has taught us anything, it is that we must be cautious before using technology that goes beyond established natural limits. We must not fool ourselves into a false sense of security or think that regulating something that is inherently unpredictable and uncontrollable makes it safe. The scientific knowledge that supports this so-called technology is completely incapable of guaranteeing that the transgenics produced now are risk-free. Genetic manipulation involves DNA components from, for example, scorpions, aquatic viruses, bacteria and other species, being implanted into the DNA of cereals, vegetables and fruits. Contrary to what is argued, these mutations can never occur naturally. They are forced to occur in isolated species in one to two years. In the natural state the evolution of DNA normally takes several million years, in a natural environment with species living together and in balance.
Geoffrey Clemments, physicist and leader of the British Natural Law Party, has recently said, “Therefore we have absolutely no means of predicting adverse outcomes that may occur. When it is understood that the methods of genetic modification involve the use of DNA from viruses and bacteria it is clear that we are unleashing a potential disaster for all forms of life. And he adds: "The only way is a total ban on all crops and food and the withdrawal of all products and crops that are already being grown."
National and international public organizations will have to monitor and control that applied knowledge is not property of the private sector, to protect that such knowledge continues in the public domain, for the benefit of rural societies. Regulatory regimes should be developed, publicly controlled, and used to monitor and assess the social and environmental risks of biotechnology products (Webber, 1990).
Finally, the trend towards a reductionist view of nature and agriculture, promoted by contemporary biotechnology, must be reversed by a more holistic approach to agriculture, to ensure that agroecological alternatives are not ignored and that they are only researched and developed, ecologically acceptable biotechnological aspects.
The time has come to effectively face the challenge and reality of genetic engineering. As has been the case with pesticides, biotech companies must feel the impact of the environmental, labor, and farm movements, so they reorient their work for the benefit of all of society and nature. The future of biotechnology-based research will be determined by power relations and there is no reason why farmers and the general public, given enough power, cannot influence the direction of biotechnology, with the objective of meeting the sustainability goals.
Serious complaints, not only from environmentalists but also from prestigious scientists, lead us to reflect on this issue. Biotech companies would be deliberately hiding the dangers of GM crops, and in a world where corporate interests are protected without much concern for consumer welfare, this can be very serious. Did any decision maker wonder about the right of consumers to know and choose freely?
Natural laws must be respected and biotechnology seems not to be doing so, or at least it is playing dangerously at a more than diffuse limit. Biotech companies claim that the DNA of plants and animals are similar and there is no ethical question when transferring DNA molecules from animals to plants. Genetic transfer between species poses a dilemma that is difficult to solve for me. Are we generating monsters without realizing it ?; What would Darwin think again today, on this issue?
For years, scholars have assumed that agriculture does not represent a special problem for environmental ethics, despite the fact that human life and civilization depend on the intentional artificialization of nature to carry out agricultural production. Even critics of the environmental impacts of pesticides and the social implications of agricultural technology have failed to conceptualize a coherent environmental ethic applicable to agricultural problems (Thompson, 1995). In general, most proponents of sustainable agriculture, conditioned by technological determinism, lack an understanding of the structural roots of environmental degradation linked to capitalist agriculture. Therefore, by accepting the current socio-economic and political structure of agriculture as established, many agricultural professionals have been limited to implement an alternative agriculture, which really challenges such structure (Levins and Lewotin, 1985). This is worrying, especially today when economic motivations, rather than environmental concerns, determine the type of research and patterns of agricultural production that prevail throughout the world (Busch et al., 1990).
The key problem that agroecologists must face is that modern industrial agriculture, today epitomized by biotechnology, is founded on fundamentally false philosophical premises and that precisely these premises need to be exposed and criticized in order to move towards truly sustainable agriculture. This is particularly relevant in the case of biotechnology, where the alliance of reductionist science and a monopolized multinational industry, which together perceive agricultural problems as simple genetic deficiencies of organisms, will again lead agriculture down the wrong route (Lewidow and Carr, 1997).
The objective of this paper is to counter the false promises made by the genetic engineering industry, which alleges that it will move agriculture away from dependence on chemical inputs, that it will increase its productivity and that it will also lower the costs of inputs, helping to reduce environmental problems (OTA, 1992). By questioning the myths of biotechnology, we reveal what genetic engineering really is: another magic solution aimed at avoiding the environmental problems of agriculture (which are themselves the result of a previous technological round of agrochemicals), without questioning the false assumptions that created the problems (Hindmarsh, 1991). Biotechnology develops monogenic solutions for problems that derive from ecologically unstable monoculture systems, designed on industrial efficiency models. It has already been proven that such a one-sided approach was not ecologically reliable in the case of pesticides (Pimentel et al, 1992).
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Environmental critics of biotechnology question the assumption that biotechnology is free of values and that it cannot be wrong or misused and call for an ethical evaluation of research in genetic engineering and its products (Krimsky and Wrubel, 1996). Proponents of biotechnology tend to have a utilitarian view of nature and favor the free exchange (trade-off) of economic gains for ecological damage, indifferent to the consequences for human beings (James, 1997). At the heart of the criticism are the biotechnological effects on social and economic conditions and religious and moral values that lead to questions such as:
& # 8226; Should we alter the genetic makeup of the entire living realm in the name of profit and profit?
& # 8226; Is the genetic makeup of living beings the common inheritance of all, or can it be acquired by corporations and thus become the private property of some?
& # 8226; Who gave individual companies the right to monopolize entire groups of organisms?
& # 8226; Do biotechnologists feel like they are the owners of nature? Is this an illusion built on scientific arrogance and conventional economics, blind to the complexity of ecological processes?
& # 8226; Is it possible to minimize ethical concepts and reduce environmental risks, while maintaining the benefits?
Some specific questions about the nature of technology also arise, while others question the dominance of the agricultural research agenda by commercial interests.
The unequal distribution of benefits, potential environmental risks, and exploitation of genetic resources, from poor nations to rich nations, call for some deeper questions:
& # 8226; Who benefits from technology? Who loses?
& # 8226; What are the consequences for the environment and health?
& # 8226; What have been the ignored alternatives?
& # 8226; What needs does biotechnology respond to?
& # 8226; How does technology affect what is being produced, how, for what and for whom is it being produced?
& # 8226; What are the social goals and ethical criteria that guide the problem of choosing biotechnological research?
& # 8226; Biotechnology to achieve what social and agronomic goals?
Many questions. Difficult answers. I don't have them.
Let's think together.
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Agrochemical corporations, which control agricultural innovation through biotechnology, argue that genetic engineering will improve the sustainability of agriculture, solve problems that affect conventional agricultural management and rid third world farmers of low productivity. poverty and hunger (Molnar and Kinnucan, 1989; Gresshoft, 1996).
Comparing myth with reality, Miguel Altieri, from the University of Berkeley, California, USA, describes how and why current advances in agricultural biotechnology do not achieve such promises and expectations. Here are your comments:
1- Biotechnology will benefit farmers in the US and the developed world.
Most innovations in agricultural biotechnology are motivated by economic criteria rather than human needs, therefore the purpose of the genetic engineering industry is not to solve agricultural problems but to make profits. Furthermore, biotechnology seeks to further industrialize agriculture and intensify farmers 'dependence on industrial inputs, aided by a system of intellectual property rights that legally inhibits farmers' rights to reproduce, exchange, and store seeds (Busch et al. al., 1990). By controlling germplasm from seed to sale and forcing farmers to pay inflated prices for seed-chemical packages, companies are willing to get the most out of their investment.
Because biotechnologies require large capital, they will continue to condition the pattern of change in agriculture in the United States, increasing the concentration of agricultural production in the hands of large corporations.
As in the case of other labor-saving technologies, by increasing productivity, biotechnology tends to reduce the prices of goods and to start up technological machinery that puts a significant number of farmers, especially small farmers, out of business. scale. The bovine growth hormone example confirms the hypothesis that biotechnology will accelerate the demise of small dairy farms (Krimsky and Wrubel, 1996).
2 - Biotechnology will benefit small farmers and favor the hungry and poor of the third world.
If the Green Revolution ignored small and resource-poor farmers, biotechnology will further exacerbate marginalization because such technologies, which are under the control of corporations and protected by patents, are expensive and inappropriate for the needs and circumstances of indigenous groups. and peasants (Lipton, 1989). Since biotechnology is primarily a commercial activity, this reality determines the priorities of what to investigate, how it is applied and who will benefit. As the world lacks food and suffers from pesticide contamination, the focus of multinational corporations is profit, not philanthropy. This is the reason why biotechnologists design transgenic crops for new types of markets or for import substitution, instead of seeking greater food production (Mander and Goldsmith, 1996).
In general, biotech companies emphasize a limited range of crops for which there are large and secure markets, targeting large capital production systems. As transgenic crops are proprietary plants, this means that farmers may lose rights to their own regional germplasm and will not be allowed, according to the GATT, to reproduce, exchange or store seeds of their harvest (Crucible Group, 1994). It is difficult to conceive how this type of technology will be introduced into third world countries in a way that favors the masses of poor farmers. If biotechnologists were truly committed to feeding the world, why don't biotech geniuses turn to developing new varieties of crops that are more tolerant to weeds, rather than herbicides? Or why aren't products being developed? most promising biotechnology plants such as nitrogen-fixing or drought-tolerant plants?
Biotechnology products will weaken exports from third world countries, especially small-scale producers. The development, via biotechnology, of the product "Thaumatin" is just the beginning of a transition to alternative sweeteners that will replace the third world sugar market in the future (Mander and Goldsmith, 1996). It is estimated that around 10 million sugarcane farmers in the Third World could face a loss of their livelihoods when laboratory-processed sweeteners begin to invade world markets. Fructose produced by biotechnology has already captured about 10% of the world market and caused sugar prices to fall, putting hundreds of thousands of workers out of work. But such limiting rural opportunities is not limited to sweeteners. Approximately 70,000 vanilla-growing farmers in Madagascar were ruined when a Texas firm produced vanilla in its biotechnology laboratories (Busch et al., 1990). The expansion of oil palms cloned by Unilever will substantially increase palm oil production with dramatic consequences for farmers who produce other vegetable oils (peanut in Senegal and coconut in the Philippines).
3 - Biotechnology will not threaten the ecological sovereignty of the third world.
Since the north realized the ecological services that biodiversity provides, of which the south is the largest repository, the third world has witnessed a 'genetic fever', as multinational corporations explore forests , crop fields and coasts, in search of southern genetic gold (Kloppenburg, 1988). Protected by the GATT, these corporations freely practice "biopiracy", which costs developing nations, according to the Foundation for Rural Advancement (RAFI), some US $ 4.5 billion a year due to the loss of royalties from producer companies. of food and pharmaceutical products, which use the germplasm and medicinal plants of peasants and indigenous people (Levidow and Carr, 1997).
It is clear that indigenous peoples and their diversity are seen as raw material by multinational corporations, which have obtained billions of dollars in seeds developed in US laboratories, from germplasm that third-country farmers have produced. The world has carefully improved for generations (Fowler and Mooney, 1990) Peasants are not currently rewarded for their millenary knowledge, while multinational corporations begin to obtain royalties from third world countries, estimated in billions of dollars. . Until now biotechnology companies have not rewarded third world farmers for the seeds they take and use (Kloppenburg, 1988).
4 - Biotechnology will lead to the conservation of biodiversity.
Although biotechnology has the ability to create a greater variety of commercial plants and in this way contribute to biodiversity, this is unlikely to happen. The strategy of multinational corporations is to create broad international markets for the seed of a single product. The trend is to form uniform international seed markets (MacDonald, 1991). Furthermore, the measures dictated by multinational corporations on the patent system, which prohibits farmers from reusing the seed that yields their crops, will affect the possibilities of in situ conservation and the improvement of genetic diversity at the local level.
Agricultural systems developed with transgenic crops will favor monocultures that are characterized by dangerous levels of genetic homogeneity, which lead to a greater vulnerability of agricultural systems to biotic and abiotic stress (Robinson, 1996). As the new bioengineered seed replaces the old traditional varieties and their wild relatives, genetic erosion will accelerate (Fowler and Mooney, 1990). In this way, the pressure for uniformity will not only destroy the diversity of genetic resources, but will also break down the biological complexity that conditions the sustainability of traditional agricultural systems (Altieri, 1994).
5 - Biotechnology is not ecologically harmful and will give rise to a sustainable agriculture free of chemicals.
Biotechnology is being developed to patch up the problems caused by previous technologies with agrochemicals (resistance to pesticides, pollution, soil degradation, etc.), which were promoted by the same companies that are now leaders of the bio-revolution. GM crops, developed for pest control, faithfully follow the pesticide paradigm of using a single control mechanism that has failed over and over again with insects, pathogens and weeds (NRC, 1996). Transgenic crops tend to increase the use of pesticides and accelerate the evolution of "super weeds" and pests of resistant insect breeds (Rissler and Melion, 1996). The 'one resistant gene - one pest' approach has been easily overtaken by pests, who continually adapt to new situations and evolve detoxification mechanisms (Robinson 1997).
There are many unanswered ecological questions regarding the impact of the release of transgenic plants and microorganisms into the environment. Among the main risks associated with genetically engineered plants are the unintentional transfer of "trangenes" to wild relatives of crops and the unpredictable ecological effects that this implies (Rissler and Mellon, 1996).
From the above considerations, agroecological theory predicts that biotechnology will exacerbate the problems of conventional agriculture and by promoting monocultures, it will also undermine ecological methods of agricultural management such as rotations and polycultures (Hindmarsh, 1991). As conceived, biotechnology currently does not fit the broad ideals of sustainable agriculture (Kloppenburg and Burrows, 1996).
6 - Biotechnology will improve the use of molecular biology for the benefit of all sectors of society.
The demand for the new biotechnology did not arise as a result of social demands, but of changes in patent laws and the profit interests of chemical companies, of linking seeds and pesticides. The product arose out of the sensational advances in molecular biology and the availability of adventurous capital, for risk as a result of favorable tax laws (Webber, 1990). The danger is that the private sector is influencing the direction of public sector research in an unprecedented way (Kleinman and Kloppenburg, 1988).
As more universities and public research institutes partner with corporations, more serious ethical questions arise about who owns the research results and what research is done. The tendency to keep the secrecy of the university researchers involved in such associations raises questions about personal ethics and conflicts of interest. In many universities, a professor's ability to attract private investment is often more important than academic qualifications, removing incentives for scientists to be accountable to society. Areas such as biological control and agroecology, which do not attract corporate support, are being neglected and this does not serve the public interest (Kleinman and Koppenburg, 1988).
In the late 1980s, a Monsanto publication indicated that biotechnology would revolutionize agriculture in the future with products based on nature's own methods, making the agricultural system more environmentally friendly and more profitable for the farmer ( OTA, 1992). Furthermore, plants with self-incorporated genetic defenses against insects and pathogens would be provided. Since then, many others have promised various other rewards that biotechnology can bring through crop improvement.
Miguel Altieri adds to his analysis: "The ethical dilemma is that many of these promises are unfounded and many of the advantages or benefits of biotechnology have not been able or have not been realized. Although it is clear that biotechnology can help improve the Agriculture, given its current orientation, biotechnology rather promises damage to the environment, further industrialization of agriculture and a deeper intrusion of private interests in public sector research. Until now, the economic and political dominance of multinational corporations , on the agricultural development agenda, has succeeded at the expense of the interests of consumers, farmers, small family farms, wildlife and the environment. "
On this issue, the debate does not end since new elements of analysis are being incorporated that require extreme mechanisms of balance and weighting. In our country, for example, the advances of Direct Sowing (SD) cannot be ignored, a technique that has made it possible to recover degraded soils and avoid the erosion of those that today are subjected to intensive exploitation. This technique allows a high fixation of carbon to the soil and a significant decrease in the use of agrochemicals and fossil fuels (in machinery previously used in the traditional sowing method). As shown by a study published opportunely by CENIT, the application of the SD has allowed Argentina to considerably increase its production of certain crops, without noticing a parallel degradation of those lands. Increasing food production is the other variable that is incorporated into this debate. In his passage through our country and in the greatest silence, without appearing in current magazines or in the supplements of the great mass media, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Norman Borlaug, was very clear about the food and population landscape of the world.
"Every year, 90 million people are added to the world food demand. Despite the existing reserves, according to the FAO, there are 800 million people on the planet who do not receive enough food. The resolution of this situation must be a priority and personally, I am not interested in equitably distributing hunger. Therefore, to meet these requirements, we need to quickly apply the highest possible technology to agriculture. " And then he threw the glove: "Biotechnology is the least offensive tool. Unlike nature, it is tremendously fast and precise in the incorporation of genes that are of interest for the improvement of crops; there is a lack of knowledge on the part of common people about biotechnology. He does not know that it has been installed in nature for thousands of years, genetic variations in plants are part of a natural process. Wheat, for example, is a very complex plant and has suffered over time your own modifications. " The scientist speaks who, thanks to his tests with the so-called "short wheat", left the fertile ground for millions of Africans and Asians to have wheat in their diet today.
National and international public organizations will have to monitor and control that applied knowledge is not only property of the private sector, to protect that such knowledge continues in the public domain, for the benefit of rural societies. Publicly controlled regulatory regimes should be developed and used to monitor and assess the social and environmental risks of biotechnology products (Webber, 1990).
Finally, the trend towards a reductionist view of nature and agriculture, promoted by contemporary biotechnology must be reversed by a more holistic approach to agriculture, to ensure that agroecological alternatives are not ignored and that only biotechnological aspects are investigated and developed. ecologically acceptable.
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The planet cries out for help and mercy with desperate cries, that is why it is possible to refer to a theory based on the alternative of interpreting the planet as a living planetary body, which can experience health and disease (the earth seen as a singular system, a living entity) . Gaia theory describes the planetary ecosystem as a living organism, in the sense of active, since it maintains interaction between all its components.
Their planetary diseases could be the equivalent of known environmental problems. For example, nuclear chills, greenhouse fevers, indigestion from acid rain or ozone stains would be the pathologies suffered by this organism, to which reference is made. Men, have we not become a tumor for the earth? It is possible to propose to invite reflection.
It is true that this hypothesis has not yet been proven, but it may well serve as one more vision of the problems that occur on earth, to mark the important need that nature has - men included - to change immediate and selfish interests, for development for the benefit of the present and the future all over the world.
Scientists often refute this possibility, calling the theory unscientific, but does this matter if the argument on which the Gaia hypothesis is based still appeals to the awakening of certain dormant senses? I believe that if we succeed in one way or another - without neglecting the importance of carrying out serious investigations, nor separating ourselves from the objective of seeking environmental solutions and preventions -, rescue the ethical edge of people to act in accordance with their commitments and moral responsibilities The attempt to continue to support the assumption of a planet seen as a living organism will be well worth it.
By waiting for the results of slow studies by science, as the only discipline that can offer a serious diagnosis, we may be delaying, or worse still, preventing other alternatives from joining together to provide a solution to so much chaos.
Federico José Caeiro (h)
E-mail: [email protected]
GMOs & other herbs
(much more resistant): ethical considerations
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