Gateway Green Alliance/Green Party of St. Louis

Protecting Our Biointegrity

Tammy Shea, Gateway Green Alliance

It would be hard to deny that life in all its forms is under attack and is being degraded. As our natural world is eroded so are we. Dependant as we are on nature and the immeasuable gifts it provides, we are still in destruction mode. Despite the warnings that come from our continual studying, education and awareness about saving the planet, we still see an erosion of our spiritual and biological connection to nature, a connection that values and respects life in all its forms.

We have achieved the ultimate envasion technique to now pollute our environment with the use of genetic alterations of plant life. We now have transgenic crops that are considered by their "inventors" to be “substantially equivilant” to their natural counterparts. That title provides that the newly invented crop is not required to submit to extensive tests for safety, saving the inventors.

Modified crops “invented” by corporations like Monsanto, DuPont, or Novartis, have built-in pest resistance or herbicide resistance to chemicals like RoundUp. This tampering with the genetic make up of plant cells entitles the inventor proprietary rights under U.S. patent laws and protects the profit extracted from these transgenic species. Even though genetic manipulation only relocates existing genes, it does not create new ones, this is considered a right to own and awards control of the entire organism. This utilization of patent rights for life forms provides us with an opportunity to ask what is a “free” gift of nature and what is to be altered and owned. We must be willing to ask “Is it ethical to reward and protect those that alter nature for profit?” Corporations that in the past have been critized for their environmental negligence, are now claiming to be only interested in providing an abundant food source for the starving masses.

The biotechnology path has been charted and the American consuming public has been characterized as having given their support and acceptance. Contrary to that characterization, the consumer has been afforded only a minimal view of the much larger picture of implications that go with this technology. The use of this technology as it is being applied to agriculture has global ecological, political, and economical ramifications. Before we have been asked how we feel about dramatically altering plant DNA, unleashing GMOs into the ecosystem, or if we believe it even necessary, agricultural mainstays have been altered and planted widely without debate. Recent studies have revealed potentially serious problems with GMOs and only now are the difficult questions being addressed.

The instability of GMOs is a very real concern among many in the scientific community. According to bioethics scholar Dr. Michael W. Fox, of The Humane Society of the U.S., "There is, infact, no data documenting the stability of any transgenic line in gene expression, or in structure and location of the insert in the genome....No such information has been provided by industry, nor requested by regulatroy authorities."

Who or what will work to insure this standard of biointegrity remains to be seen. We often look to government to solve perplexing problems involving ethics and morality, rarely does it meet our needs entirely. Ideally, the role of government is to protect the rights of all its citizens. A task that is never more dificult than when the guardians of that trust are also the violators. The U. S. Department of Agriculture along with Delta and Pineland, a seed compnay, share the patent rights to the Terminator Technology that created a firey debate over the real intent of genetic research. The USDA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) all allow key postions at their agencies to be held by industry insiders. This allows for swift approval without allowing discussion or desenting opinion. The government is promoting GMOs not regulating them.

As genetic exploration increases it is imperative that safeguards be in place to protect against potential violations of humanity and nature for political and financial expediency. Technology is providing us with new directions of exploration into our genetic heritage and offers conjecture of what the future may bring. Whether it be pharmaceuticals or food, the impact of genetically altering the biological components of life necessitates vigilant ethical oversight.

In a Democracy, oversight must come from the people. Ultimately, individuals must see to it that some ethical framework be established for genetic exploration. We are the authority on what is ethical and should feel obligated to comment on the direction technology will take us. The Europeans have commented loudly on the issue and have reminded us that our voices can and should be heard. It is in our nature to seek an ethical highground and restore our lost connections to nature. That connection provides valuable insight to our sense of purpose and being. At a this time in history, it does not seem to be a loss we can well afford.

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