Genetic Biodiversity in the Era of Genetic Engineering

Given my past involvement with Greenpeace, the fact that I have changed my mind about genetically engineered crops (GMOs) makes me an apostate. Continuing my heretic writings, I will try to show today that biotechnology, specifically genetic engineering, can be good for biodiversity, specifically genetic diversity. Continue reading

GMOs in Happyville

In a paper published in 1992, Paul R. Portney told a nice story about a fictitious town called Happyville. In that story, the director of a local environmental protection authority faces an uneasy task: he has to make a decision about whether to treat water to remove a natural contaminant Happyville’s residents believe to cause cancer. However, according to experts, it is highly unlikely that the contaminant has any adverse health effects–which the residents refuse to accept. Water treatment imposes costs. Eventually, it is the science-denying residents who would pay them. But the director knows that this would be irrational. What should he do, then? Refuse following the irrationality of the public? Or accept people’s will despite knowing that they are effectively harming themselves? There is no simple answer to that. And, obviously, Portney’s story is not just a nice gedankenexperiment, as it has, e.g., obvious relevance for policies related to genetically engineered food crops. Continue reading

It’s deliberative democracy, stupid!

There is a common foundation of most, maybe even all problems I deal with in this blog. The foundation is a somewhat metaphysical one and regards the ethical categories “right” and “wrong”. Indeed, what we do about climate change, whether we engage in genetic engineering, whether and how we should achieve sustainability – all these questions boil down to “What is right?” and the way this basic question can and should be answered. Continue reading

Can Transgenic Crops Be Sustainable?

The right answer to the question I (somewhat provocatively) posed above is: this is the wrong question. Alas, most of the debate around genetically engineered crops (particularly GE foods) is based on this flawed formulation. In what follows, I shall try to show why the right question should be: “Can agriculture that is based on (or includes) transgenic crops be sustainable?”, and that the right answer is a conditional “It depends”. Continue reading

The Dilemma of a Do-Gooder

Readers and visitors may have noticed that my general view of humanity’s environmental, social and related problems is that no real solution can be achieved without widespread acceptance that we must change. We must change the way we are living, the way we are consuming, housing, travelling, communicating etc. Prolonging the status quo of attitudes, values and life styles will only provide half-baked solutions. However, I recently have been thinking about this (I still am) and I realized that the problem is even deeper than I had thought in the first place. Continue reading

Climate Change Denialism and GM Food Opposition

I have ever opposed genetically modified food – reasons for that can be found here and here (they have evolved a little, but my opposition remained strong). However, recently I had to revise many of my previous arguments. Also I had to realize that many arguments against GM food as used by its adversaries are counterfactual, oversimplifications, misrepresentations of scientific results and the like. Then, I asked myself: you know this pattern, don’t you? At first glance at least, their affinity to climate change denialism is striking. Continue reading

GM Food: Another Case for the Economics of Uncertainty

Here you can find my updated standpoint toward genetically engineered crops.

The discussion about the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture is one of the most heated environmental debates of the present. While some claim that Europe’s opposition to GM crops is “arrogant hypocrisy” and dooms Africa to hunger, others answer that the so-called green biotechnology only promotes superweeds, food insecurity and pesticides. It is indeed a very complicated subject where the treatment of uncertain hazards plays a significant role – similar to the nuclear power or climate change debates. I already once wrote a piece about the socio-economic aspects of GMO, but it was, admittedly, rather superficial. After having discussed uncertainty aspects more broadly and in the field of climate change in more recent entries, today I am going to try to give a broader, more balanced look on GMO with the focus on decision-making under uncertainty. Continue reading

Socio-economic Aspects of GMO

Here you can find my updated standpoint toward genetically engineered crops.

In the European Union, every discussion about the admission of new GMO (genetically modified organisms) equals a battle between the EU’s or member states’ bureaucracies and various environmental groups and organizations. The most invoked arguments of the opponents of GMO (in agriculture – I will limit myself to this particular – highly controversial – area) consider the environmental and health aspects of genetically modified organisms, especially when they come into the food chain. No-one really knows what the long-term impact of these artificial creatures on human beings and the natural environment may be.

This is an important argument. But there also are strong socio-economic arguments against GMO. In what follows I will shortly present some of these aspects and emphasize their importance. Continue reading