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

20 GMO questions: Animal, vegetable, controversy?

I wish I would have written that one myself… Enjoy reading. I haven’t seen many such balanced summaries of any controversial subject yet.


This is a slightly unusual end-of-the-year list. Instead of a selection of the best or worst news over the year, this is simply a bullet-point summation of what I’ve learned about GMOs in 2013.

When I started this series, I proposed to cut through the debate by finding the facts that both sides agree upon. I also proposed to do this (back in July) “over the next few weeks.” Ha. Not only has this taken me much longer, I’ve also learned that this controversy has turned into something resembling trench warfare, where the two sides refuse to agree on anything, lest they give up an inch of their hard-won position. So I don’t expect everyone to agree with the list below, but I do expect that reasonable people on both sides will concede (if only under their breath) that the bulk of the evidence leads to these…

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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