By Dick Lyles
Thanks, Amy, for raising awareness about the significant issues we should all face in regard to genetically modified organisms. I’ll comment on each of the three concerns you addressed and then raise a fourth that we should also address as part of this discussion.
The potential health impact of modified plants on animals and humans is by far the most significant concern. In the past we’ve seen the horrific, negative impact of herbicides like Agent Orange and pesticides such as DDT on animals and humans. To assume we can build these kinds of agents into plants and not run the risk of similar effects is sheer folly. I don’t want to eat products modified in this manner, no matter who benefits. And I don’t want them pushed onto my kids and grandkids either. As an aside, Amy, I think this is one of those areas where scientists representing special interests can’t be trusted to present all the facts objectively.
Amy, although I also share your concern about the monopolistic positioning of Monsanto in this arena, my concerns go beyond the notion of capitalism and economic competition. I’m concerned that they are monopolizing the knowledge. This is an area of highly technical research and development that relies on the specialized expertise of a small number of people who gain their knowledge through years of costly experimentation. Not many companies are in a position to replicate that. I’d be very interested to know the policies, grants and sources of resources that contributed to giving Monsanto its competitive advantage in this field. Why aren’t there other companies doing the same thing? I’m guessing they either know this is a bad idea and the truth will come to light and therefore kill the economic opportunity, or they have been kept out of the game through restrictive government policies or funding practices. We need to effectively democratize the knowledge about GMOs.
The third concern you raise, Amy is a bit harder to justify, because the U.S. is such a prominent player in the global market. If all farmers have to pay inflated prices for seeds, they’ll just pass through the costs. And I’m sure the seed suppliers make the argument that the farmers more than make up the cost of higher priced seeds by not having to pay for pesticides and the like. I think the primary selling point for GMO crops is that they can be produced at a substantially lower overall cost, and that eventually lower costs will overcome resistance to GMO products in the global marketplace. But you’re right in raising the point that the policies of our government and many others will have profound effect on these markets.
This leads to the most important issue we should confront in the context of all these issues: the issue of accountability to the common good.
During the past several months we’ve learned that the National Security Agency, whose mission precludes domestic surveillance, has been collecting phone records for every American. I’m confident we’ll soon learn they’ve done the same with all our Internet records. The IRS is harassing selected groups because of their ideologies. We’ve learned that the Justice Department has attacked our liberty rights by spying on journalists under the false guise that they are “unindicted co-conspirators.”
We can no longer trust the government or private corporations to watch out for the common good. The biggest issue we face on this topic is, “to whom can we turn to see that society’s best interests prevail and the common good is served?”
Lyles, a Poway resident, is a business/management consultant and best-selling author.