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Do you want GMOs on your table? (Yuqing Yang)

October 29, 2009

       In 2003, I studied as an exchange student at the University of Hawaii, and I was able to conduct a research project with the help of a biotechnologist at the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center. In the process of interviewing researchers in biotechnology, a manager of a local agricultural corporation, and an exporting professional, I was introduced to the topic of GMOs. The research experience gave birth to my paper Genetically Modified Organisms and Intellectually Property Rights. Three economists James Oehmke, Mywish Maredia and Dave Weatherspoon presented a dynamic model in 2001 pointing out that Europe’s policy on prohibiting the consumption of agricultural biotechnology products provides the South with a unique opportunity to engage in biotechnology production and trade. Nevertheless, that the developing countries would become the winner of biotechnology as the model suggested seems to me an overstatement, at least in the short run it is unlikely. The continuing uncertainty over market access for GM products in Europe will reduce the pace worldwide of innovation intended for international markets. The developing countries that are engaged in biotechnology are likely to redirect their efforts towards meeting local needs or even in some cases put restrictions on producing certain varieties.

      Back then, my concern was mainly with GM products’ leverage in international trade war. GMOs have been considered a blessing for boosting agricultural yields, but, like the chemicals in Safe and the pesticide poisoning in Heroes and Saints, they are also under harsh criticism. When GM papaya was introduced into Hawaii, the biotech industry said it was a solution to the papaya ringspot virus problem. Five years after the planting of GM papaya was approved in Hawaii, scientists found that it is more susceptible to other plant disease as “black spot” fungus. Hawaii farmers thus lost their biggest export markets. In other words, the plantation of GM papaya has not only caused the price drop of local papaya, it may have also posed other environmental issues to local farmers. Then what is your view on GM food? Do you think GM food could be as poisonous as the chemicals? Do you feel comfortable with your table ornamented by GM corn, GM rice and GM papaya?

GMOs

The lady says:" I don't want pesticides and GMOs."

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2009 6:36 pm

    Yuqing,

    You get to the heart of the debate over transgenic and GM foods. There is evidence that the EU ban on GM crops has not been entirely effective. The radical arts group Critical Art Ensemble created a mobile GM testing lab as an art installation. They set the lab up in several European cities; and visitors to the lab/gallery could bring foods from their pantry to test them for GM ingredients. You may find their writings about this project interesting.

    Also of note, the New York Times ran a special roundtable discussion this week on the question of biotechnology and world hunger. The roundtable features divergent perspectives on the questions you raise. Several contributors, including activists Vandana Shiva and Raj Patel, note that GM crops have not produced the high yields that biotech corporations and world agriculture leaders have promised. There is also little evidence that the use of GM seeds in turn reduces the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides; GM seeds, in some cases, contain pest-killing bacteria whose environmental and health effects are still relatively untested.

    That said, I have spoken with environmentalists and anthropologists who specialize in sustainable and small-scale agriculture. They argue that the environmentalist movement against GM crops needs to distinguish between the technology itself (which has many applications, some of which could be “positive” for sustainable agriculture) and the current control of that technology by biotech corporations, whose political power allows them to “get around” the safety tests and public scrutiny a technology like this should require.

    Finally, Vandana Shiva will be in residence at the University next winter (winter 2011); so we will have a wonderful opportunity to learn from her research and activism on this issue.

  2. kmckimps permalink
    October 31, 2009 1:36 am

    Your post brought to mind some work my sister did with gastric stem cells. As I recall, they were trying to locate progenitor (one step away from an adult stem cell) cell, with the distant endpoint growing such cells outside the body.

    To whit to your post, their attempts at that time for growing the progenitor cells outside the body was a failure. But, failure is not itself a proof that such an act could never be successful, merely that it wasn’t.

    I think it would be a bit abrupt to discount GMO’s because of failure, or failure to predict all known strains of viruses. However, the growers above were wronged (or stupid. I’d need more information to decide). A new product, no matter what guarantees, should not be used on a massive scale barring desperation and prolonged testing in the field.

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