Thursday, September 03, 2009

*Addendum to previous post (Genetically modified Crops: Critics of the GM Critics Gone Wild?)


I'd already half typed this out and then accidentally deleted form the copy'n'paste clipboard... argh.


Let's give it another go...

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*One may ask how this fits with my and others generalized critique of corporations, especially as relates to their role in food and GM crops. That is, you could fairly argue that I tend to paint them with a broad brush, rather categorically. Firstly, I wouldn't really consider corporations a "side" the same way I consider "pro-GM" as a "side." Corporations are not equivalent to a point of view, and my point was that you can't (or shouldn't) dispute a point by dismissing everyone advocating that point as cynically motivated. Corporations are far from everyone advocating GMs; you have food activists, university researchers and even researchers within ag. corporations who cannot be uniformly assumed to be irrational or motivated by, say, greed over the welfare of others. (Of course, I don't really accuse corporations of being irrational in their pursuit of objectives I think are often detestable, or at least questionable.) Indeed, I have friends and colleagues who believe in the potential and need for genetic modification, and I don't presume that they are irrational, motivated by greed or other ulterior motives, or anything but, in most cases, genuine concern for others and an intellectual belief in the need/utility of GM crops. This is more what I was referring to. One shouldn't, of course, categorically dismiss *groups* OR *sides*, but besides pointing out that corporations aren't, to my mind, a proper "group" in this sense (in that they're made up of people with a wide diversity of opinions, even some that dispute the primary positions of their own company) and insofar as they are a group, they're a group that as a matter of record and fact are committed to profits and not to social welfare; when the two conflict, they have and do argue that the former must come before or even at the expense of the latter due to the rules of their constitution and "personhood." This is a topic for another time, but is a primary component of what I see as problematic with corporations.
---------end digression-----------


Mpls Ju said...

Corporations. . . "are committed to profits and not to social welfare; when the two conflict, they have and do argue that the former must come before or even at the expense of the latter due to the rules of their constitution and "personhood."

I agree with the first part but I don't know about the second part of that statement. Corporations are driven by money, and if the company makes money by selling Bt-based insecticides, they will advocate that the product is safe or risk going out of business. Thus I wouldn't argue that profits must be made at the expense of social welfare because the corporation is a "person," but because these profits drive the company's livelihood and ability of its workers to hold jobs, pay mortgages, etc. Self-interest of the individuals that make up the company - perhaps this is what you meant by suggesting the company itself is a person.

Two thoughts with regards to whether GM-treated crops affect the biological community outside of the intended pest targets. First: duh! Is it just me, or does it seem completely intuitive that the ecosystem is a bit more complex than the linear picture painted by the GM-advocates. Bt toxin has been shown to affect many different genera of insects, and one can easily imagine that (a) a Bt toxin-based spray may wash off into nearby streams or (b) GM crops may decompose in streams, releasing toxin to the water (although toxin effectivity depends on its stability).

Second: Having read the article, it seems that many scientists question the validity of the caddis-fly data. I agree that Dr Rosi-Marshall could have controlled her experiments better, but I don't think that more controls would change the results. Data will likely accumulate, indicating that we humans are altering the world with our Golden Rice and Bt-treated cotton, in ways that we hadn't anticipated (colony collapse disorder, anyone?). As the human population explodes, however, I think the question will become less about whether we are changing the ecosystem and more about whether changing the ecosystem is worthwhile to save human lives and how much change is tolerable. GM modified crops are only one way we can try to eek out another billion human lives from our earthly resources. Have you ever seen the TV show Firefly? I always got a kick out of hearing the opening line: "After the earth was used up. . . " stated de facto like it was no big deal.

J said...

Well, corps. are legally constituted "persons" which is why I refer to it. The personhood is not a direct line to their placement of profits above social welfare, but the same principles that create the legal fiction that they are a person also specifically constitute them as a person/entity with a legal obligation to deliver profits to their shareholders. Corps. have specifically argued in cases where they've been charged with hurting social welfare or negative externalities that if they had chosen to "help" people/society rather than pursue profits, their shareholders could sue them for breach of contract or some such, since their legal obligation is to profits. Certainly, they end up making arguments about keeping employees, jobs, mortgages, etc., though it's of course not in their employees' interest to have their company, say, polluting and increasing cancer rates, besides which, the corporation as legally constituted has obligations to itself (and shareholders/profit) above that of the livelihood of any people within the organization. They certainly point to their status of providing livelihoods, but they hardly worry about that when, say, paying CEOs and top management 40-200 times the pay of average employees. (Especially since that pay tends to do less for the economy than the same amount of money spread out amongst more "middle-class" types; middle- and low-income people generally spend more as they get more; the upper-income-class types tend to save it in ways that might arguably "stimulate" economy, but certainly to a lesser "multiplier" extent than those at lower income levels).

As to population, I'm not terribly concerned with population per se. Given that Americans are 4% of the population and use 20% of the resources in the world, is the problem that there are too many people, or too much resource use? Certainly, if Americans were a smaller population, say, 1%, and used 5% of the resources, that would be a much lesser problem, but by the same token, if poor people using 1/10 of an equitable portion of resources double, a group might go from consuming, let's say, 1% to 2% of global resources. Consumption and population are simultaneously problematic, but since most population growth is from those using the least resources, population growth per se doesn't concern me so much as population growth of the rich (which pretty much means Americans since population growth is rapidly slowing or negative in most other "rich" countries while Americans keep expanding, in a number of ways) and consumption by the rich.