Earlier this summer Cosmos host and generally likable guy, Neil DeGrasse Tyson released a video arguing that people who oppose laboratory created genetically modified foods were misguided. He used the often repeated argument that we have been genetically modifying foods for years, through hybridization and selective breeding.
While I am not against modification of organisms through laboratory means per se, I cannot imagine anyone who is against such things finding this augment the least bit persuasive. To quote Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum “we shouldn’t pretend that millennia of creating enhanced and hybrid breeds tells us anything very useful about the safety of cutting-edge laboratory DNA splicing techniques.” Tyson’s argument comes off as be one of those arguments that seems more interested in annoying, confusing and dismissing the people it is addressed at, than it does in taking their concerns seriously. In this way it reminds me of the arguments associated with privilege theory which despite making good points often alienate the very people who most need to develop and understanding of them. For more on this topic I recommend this piece by Cathy Reisenwitz.
While I do not object to using cutting edge techniques to genetically modify organism I do find it highly problematic that the results of such splicing can be patented, that governments are involved in funding and directing these lines of research and development in collusion with big business that we are moving towards sheltering those who grow them from liability above and beyond the already excessive liability protection that big business normally receives. It seems to me that Monsanto and other large agribusiness firms are using government collusion to further their control and domination of the world’s food supply, at the expense of ordinary producers and consumers.
As I have argued before, I favor a legal regime in which government is neutral to the development of such technology and no one is allowed to contaminate the crops of others or sell what they have produced under false pretense.This unfortunately is not what I see happening.
Mean while the only debate I am hearing on this topic comes off as being rather superficial. I rarely hear anyone from the pro-GMO side question whether they should be patented or what role if any government should have in RD or liability protection. It seems that supporters of this technology unconditionally support its expansion and any policies that will promote this, while those who oppose it also do so unconditionally. This strikes me as a complicated issue and the last thing that is needed is for the discussion to be dominated by two dogmatic sides which lack any nuance. This is a promising technology but I fear it is being introduced in a manner that will further the goals of big business rather than those of ordinary people and it is regrettable that I hear so few people making this point.