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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Would Genetic Modification of Crops Be Practical in a Free Society?

I'm posing a question, or questions in this post that other Libertarians (or conservatives or socialists) may be able to help me with.

I am very pro science. I believe that technology coupled with free markets can provide mankind with almost unlimited material benefits.

Theoreticlally I am pro Genetic Modification of crops. I think nature is here to serve man and if man can improve on nature through genetic manipulation, we should do so.

However what if I am wrong? What if Genetic Modification of plants opens a Pandora's Box that we can never close?

I hold to the Libertarian principle that one should be free to do anything one likes with one's own property as long as it does not damage the property or lessen the property rights of others.

I believe that this principle, properly applied would virtually eliminate air and water pollution.

Simply put, if your activity polluted your neighbor's water or air, you could sue for damages and legally force the cessation of the offending activity.

How is this relevant to Genetic Modification of plants?

In my understanding, once you have altered the genetic structure of an organism and cross breeding is allowed to occur, that new structure will permanently become part of the wider gene pool.

If I am correct, a potential conflict arises.

Say I own an organic wheat farm. My neighbouring farmer is also a wheat grower, specialising in high yielding "conventional" cropping.

My neighbour, plants extremely high yielding, disease resistant Genetically Modified wheat on a field adjacent to mine.

Soon, pollen from my neighbour's GM wheat drifts into my field and cross pollinates my wheat.

My wheat is now also Genetically Modified and is of no value to my organic loving customers.

In my understanding of Libertarian principles, I should be able to sue my neighbour for "polluting" and effectively destroying the value of my crop.

This damage may be permanent as the GM pollen is now impossible to "recall".

Here lies the central question.

How does the GM farmer manage to keep the genetic modification he is using confined to his own crop or property?

Animals are relatively easily confined, but how do you stop the wind carrying GM pollen into neighbouring plant stocks?

Unless all GM cropping is done under glass, or huge anti-pollen barriers are somehow erected, how could GM cropping be carried out legitimately in a Libertarian society?

Am I missing something here? Am I creating a problem that doesn't actually exist?

Or is this simply the beauty of the market, working to curtail what is a potentially dangerous and uncontrollable activity?

Can the "Invisible Hand" of the market work to protect mankind against meddling with forces we have too little understanding of?

Any ideas would be much appreciated.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is what the 'Terminator' gene is for. If all genetically modified plants are infertile, then they can't 'escape' to the neighbor.

So, far from being a cruel scheme to subjucate poor farmers, the Terminator gene reveals itself as a god-send.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Thanks Anon. A straightforward solution.

Takes the wind out of my sails a bit.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A common myth about GE is that no one has ever recorded an allergic reaction to GE food.

StarLink is a GE corn product. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for animal feed but not for human consumption. Farmers who possessed the product had no idea it was dangerous. StarLink got into the food supply and hundreds of Americans reported allergic reactions to products containing it. 28 people’s reactions fit the profile of an anaphylactic response. The reason for the allergic reaction was that StarLink was modified to create its own pesticide. It became resistant to heat and gastric juices, giving more time for a human body to overreact to it.

Despite having products recalled, it was impossible to remove all StarLink out of the human food supply. Although StarLink was planted on less than 1% of US cornfields, 22% of grain tested by the USDA was contaminated by StarLink. This was due to farmers mixing different kinds of grain in their grain silos.

StarLink isn’t the only GE food product known to cause an allergic reaction. In 1999, York Laboratory scientists discovered that soy allergies skyrocketed over the previous year, jumping 50%. At the time, most soy in the UK was imported from the US. A significant percentage of that US soy was the GM Roundup Ready variety.

Reported allergies increased dramatically in the US during the 90s. This was around the same time that many new GE food products came onto the market.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Anon

GE foods, may or may not cause harm.

My point is really that as long as those who cultivate them can keep them out of the food chain, they should be allowed to grow them.

As long as choice can be maintained ie those who oppose GE foods can be confident that their food is not "contaminated" by GE products, I see no problem.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How the hell is nature here to serve man? What do you mean by that?

3:42 AM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Exactly what it says anon. Man, as a thinking being is superior to the material universe and the other living beings which inhabit this planet.

Pretty self evident I would have thought.

11:17 PM  
Anonymous James said...

Because its man's nature to modify his environment to use for his own ends Anon...that's nature for you.

Man is a material being, not a ghost.It is right and proper for man to use the resources that he can derive from his surroundings to better his own existence.Of course if man violates his environment then he suffers for it...the law of cause and effect...so the incentive is to be smart and rational about what you do with the environment you live in.But you don't need eco-Nazis to tell you that.

1:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man is superior to the material universe? Is that an Ayn Rand ditty?

4:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rock on james

3:28 PM  
Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

What you speak of is called GMO drift. Currently, policy holds a mile distance between crops is enough to prevent contamination. Events in the US have proven this is NOT effective, and in this "amateur" researcher's opinion, self evident.

Teminator Technology doesn't protect much of anything. England learned this the hard way and wound up with a herbicide resistant weed. Plus this technology wound up to be the cause of mass suicides by farmers in India. The evidence it out there (if I could find it for research for a novel, anyone can find it).

I think you hit the nail on the head with "meddling with forces we have to little understanding of." My research had been unsettling.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Thanks Dineen-what is the problem with the "Terminator gene" approach?

Why do you say it doesn't work?

9:45 PM  
Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Hi Trevor,
The original intention of the terminator technology was to be a kind of copyright. The resulting seeds are sterile and therefere the farmer can't produce next year's crop. This is devestating to farmers in third world countries, who rely on the seeds harvested to produce their next year's harvest. They become reliant on the companies who sell the seeds, who thus profit at the expense of these farmers. This is what happened in India. The farmers went into debt and were devestated.

http://www.organicconsumers.org/corp/suicide080204.cfm

The biotech companies put it under a guise of protection against contamination, but this technology does not keep the plants from pollinating and spreading the modified genes.

Unfortunately, the US and Canadian governments are great advocates of this technology (although the rise in demand for organic and non-modified foods is rising dramatically in the US—people aren't stupid). Even your own country recently experienced gm contamination in shipments from the US.

http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_seeds_got_into_New_Zealand

Terminator Technology only benefits the companies porducing the seeds. What truly makes me angry is that these companies put their profit above people. They make these GM seeds sound like a solution to help struggling communities in Africa and India, but it only cripples the economy of these people since they can't sell the crops to most countries in the EU—countries which have a ban against gmo foods.

I'm amazed at what is going on behind the scenes and how little is out in the open. (Interesting how no one heard of the tests Monsanto did on rats and gmo foods. The rats were adversely affected.) My hope is my book (a fiction story which poses the question, "What if the worst happened?") will make people want to know more and do their own research.

11:59 AM  

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