Food for Thought

19 March 2009 by Jeremy Bentham, posted in Uncategorized

Greetings from the box.

I have been following with interest the developing alarums on the impending global food crisis. I always took, and continue to take, a great interest in security in regard to subsistence, or, as you would refer to it, food security, as being vital to the well-being of the inhabitants of the nation. The particular aspect of this vast topic to claim my immediate attention is genetic modification. There seem to be contending arguments among scientists and they in turn question the precautionary principle advised by environmentalists. My fellow blogger Charles Darwin (to whom salutations) used established selective breeding methods, that is the artificial selection of particular random genetic mutations, to accentuate desired features in his beloved pigeons.

Speaking for myself, the acceptability of the manipulation of DNA in food plants depends upon the probability that food production will be thereby increased, that the food will be safe to consume, that the risks of damage to other crops can be shown to be minimal, and that the increased yield of food can be produced and distributed at prices that people throughout the world can afford. Many scientists assure us that this is the case.

The concern of the environmentalists for the fate of small farmers throughout the poorer parts of the globe, whose livelihoods will be obliterated by the GM-promoting, profit-seeking, global agribusinesses, deserves serious consideration. Agribusiness, like every sectional interest, is motivated to utilize its power to increase its profits. If it is sufficiently powerful to force small farmers to enter contracts committing them to the purchase not only of GM seeds, but of vast quantities of associated materials at inflated prices and over extended periods, then it becomes the implacable enemy rather than the friend and ally of subsistence.

It is true that the industry and ingenuity invested in the development of new inventions, which increase the general stock of wealth, require recompense, by securing exclusive title for a limited period, to the control of the invention: this is why I supported patents. However, to oblige myriads of subsistence farmers to mortgage their futures to multinational companies, if not to bankrupt themselves, in exchange for a mess of genetically modified pottage, is not to relieve hunger but to intensify it, by providing a cure which makes the disease more acute. It ought not be beyond the wit of men and women of science to find ways to combine the advantages of GM with the preservation of the legions of small farmers.

Two hundred years ago the spectre of famine loomed over Great Britain just as it does today over so many parts of the globe. And if I understand aright there are fears that this scourge may, unless urgent steps are taken, again affect even the richest nations at some future time. If GM can deliver significant increases in food production, then evidence of risk of significant harm would have to be adduced to justify rejecting it. As I have often said, the mere fact that something is new is not sufficient ground for rejecting it. Everything was new once, and appeal to the wisdom of our ancestors, whether or not bedecked with liberal usage of horror at unfamiliar practices as ‘unnatural’, is no substitute for argument.

Your ever laborious and devoted Servant

One Response to “Food for Thought”

  1. Pamela Ronald Reply | Permalink

    I appreciate your point of view, Jeremy. It is very practical

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