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GM Crops Make Ethical Sense, Says Pence


A progressive approach using GM crops "will play a goodly part in a milestone in human history: eliminating mass starvation". So argues Gregory Pence, bioethicist in the Philosophy Department at the University of Birmingham, in a new book. In "Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World", he explores some of the ethical and philosophical issues underlying the debates in relation to agricultural biotechnology.

Pence discusses the potential of GM crops to help the people of the developing world. "Egalitarians are right: such people donít need monocultures for export, they need to eat," he argues. He notes that a report by seven science academies points out that biotech so far has only marginally aided small farmers in emerging countries and that such farmers should not have to buy back enhanced versions of their native crops. However, he believes the overwhelming effect will be positive for developing countries. "Surely critics are wrong that this tool itself will not help starving people." Vandana Shiva, critic of biotech "does not speak for the real India", says Pence.

He draws an analogy between the view of eighteenth century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau that civilisation and science were corrupting and modern-day opponents of biotechnology. "Our new Rousseaus have no real plan for the suffering peoples of countries of the developing world." He criticises the "ecofacism" that has neglected to tackle the hard questions relating to decisions relating to human lives and potential environmental impact. "Not all human interests must be sacrificed at the altar of the environment," he concludes.

Considering GM food safety, he argues trust is the major issue. "Although no reason exists now to fear the safety of GM food, the question arises whether we should trust international agribusinesses to alert us if evidence of dangers begins to mount. The record of StarLink corn and TSEs in Europe gives reason for concern," says Pence. "So strong regulation and testing by outside agencies will be needed to insure that new GM foods are safe and that they continue to be so."

Although he doesnít believe GM food labelling is necessary, he argues that it is a compromise that must be lived with for now. "Once consumers understand that GM food is safe, and once marketers or scientists give consumers an added reason to by GM food at the same price or lower (better taste or nutrition longer shelf life), GM food will be a success. But GM food should not be forced down the throats of American or European consumers; citizens should accept it voluntarily, as such and clearly labelled. Only in this way will GM food ultimately be depoliticized," he says.

The book "Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World", is published by Rowman and Littlefield.

Contact: Gregory Pence, Department of Philosophy, University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, AL 35294-1260, USA. +1 205-934-8922 URL: http://www.uab.edu/philosophy/faculty/pence/