Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Blessed are Thou who Modifies Nature
The Vatican has issued a statement claiming that it is ok to genetically modify babies. The process begins with isolating a gene from one organism, plant or animal and lodging it into another. Genes can also be shut-off through this process as well so that they are no longer active. The process is a bit imprecise however, we are never really sure what the outcome will be or if we will create foreign proteins that will damage our bodies for generations to come. Although the science to genetically modify human babies is in the works, the Vatican's position is on the genetic modification of plants and non human animal life forms.
What is the difference really? What is the difference if the Vatican's position supports the modification of plants or humans. In my mind supporting one is only a short step away from supporting the other. To confuse matters even further the Vatican has recently updated its list of mortal sins which now includes, genetic experimentation, tampering with the order of nature, pollution, social injustice, causing poverty, accumulating excessive wealth, and drug abuse. Ironically. I could go through each ones of those additions and show rather definitively how the Vatican is breaking its own rules. However, here I choose to focus on those first two. Genetic Experimentation and tampering with the order of nature.
The Vatican has come out many times over the last few years in support of genetic modification. Touting the technology as the hope for the future and putting pressure on the European Union, who currently require all GM foods to be labeled and certain countries completely ban them from the market. It should be noted that the United States has no restriction on Genetic Modification and there are no labeling laws. It is estimated that around 75% or more of the average American's diet contains genetically modified foods. The Vatican claims that these patented modified foods are the answer to the worlds hunger and malnutrition problems. GM Foods are a great blow to sustainable agriculture. The seeds must be purchased every year as they are built to self destruct after one season. In the US and around the world, if a farmer buys seed one year and does not use it all they must get rid of that seed and purchase new seed every year. If they are caught "saving seed" they must pay fees for violation of the patent on the seed. Our worlds hungry need a method that will be sustainable for them forever, otherwise they will be on our welfare forever. That is what these dependent crops do, they take away independence. Some say that it is easy to be anti-GM crops when your belly is full, but our problem in this world is not a lack of food or overpopulation. Look at America, we are the most wasteful country in the world, we have ridiculous surpluses of food, and we have hungry, starving poor people in this country that have no access to food and clean water. The reasons that people in this world are starving are political and monetary, not lack of food.
A large part of the reason that third world countries have problems growing their own food is access to clean water. In many areas around the world the women of the nation spend nearly 8 hours of their day gathering fresh clean water for the household, walking miles and miles carrying pales of water. In other areas meters are installed in towns to allow only a small portion of water to be available to the residents at a great cost. Let us not forget our fellow Americans who cannot drink the tap water that they pay a municipal bill for because it contains such high levels of nitrites and perchlorate. By the way, if you boil water containing nitrites, the level of nitrites increases dramatically! It is education and access to water that is needed in these areas. If we teach people to grow crops and help them with an adequate supply of water, people can sustain themselves. GM crops are a quick fix that will destroy soil quality and keep the world dependent on patented technology. Plus we really do not know the long term implications of genetically modifying crops, the strong pesticides that are used on them, the unnatural protein and gene structures produced in these orgainisms are a potential nightmare for spreading protein diseases such as Mad Cow (BSE, human form Cruetzfeld Jacobs disease).
Companies such as Monsanto run around the world trying to push their financial agenda, in the process they occasionally pick up substantial supporters, such as the Vatican, the US Government, the G8 Summit, and people such as Bill Gates. I believe the reason these people are behind using genetically modified crops is that they are not being shown the other options forcefully enough. The other options are also not as simple. GM crops are the quick fix silver bullet that we are looking for in our society. But they are not a sustainable fix. Education and the promise of clean water are not easy things to produce, but they are necessary. The US Government, Monsanto, Cargil, and GD Searle, have been revolving doors for employees to jump from one to the other and back again. The political lobbies are so strong it is sometimes hard to tell them apart.
So my message to the Vatican, Please I beg of you, knock one mortal sin off of your repertoire. You do not need to commit them all, we believe that you are powerful enough that you do not have to follow your own rules. But this is a fairly clear cut case of tampering with nature and genetic experimentation. You have so much power, use it for good!