Ethics of GMOs: A Panel Discussion


-My name’s Jonathan Beever. I’m a senior research
ethics research fellow– postdoctoral fellow– here
at the Rock Ethics Institute, focusing on our RISE-UP
Initiative, our Research Integrity in Science and
Engineering Initiative. I’d like to thank our staff,
Rob Peeler, Deborah Trialonas, and Carolyn Umbricht for their
help in organizing the series. And I’d like to
thank my colleagues, Michael [? Rory. ?] He’s a
senior at State High here in town, and Kristen
[? Bergman ?], who’s a recent grad
in phil and bioethics. And they’ve been essential in
helping me organize the series and coming up with a list of
questions for our panelists and thinking through this
really complex issue of GMOs in the environment. I’d also like to thank, of
course, Doug and Julie Rock for their ongoing
support of our work here at the Rock
Ethics Institute. This evening, we’re
really honored to have a panel of
excellent scholars joining us to discuss a topic
that’s of significant public and scientific interest. Discussions about GMOs are
fraught with strong feelings, a wide range of social
and scientific values and knowledge, and quite a
bit of ongoing confusion. Even as recently as a few
nights ago, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel poked fun at that confusion. I don’t know if any
of you saw that spot. He interviewed people
in his standard way at a local farmer’s market and
found that several people were vehemently opposed to GMOs,
even though they didn’t really know what GMO stood for. One of my favorite responses
to his question that he asked everybody, what is
a GMO, was, uh, um, it’s some corn bad stuff, right? [LAUGHTER] So we’re hoping to move a
little bit beyond that tonight. I don’t think any of us in
this room are at that point in the understanding of
GMOs in the environment. But there’s been a lot
of public conversation around genetically
modified organisms and centered on the question
of food safety– whether and to what extent GMOs
bring a goodness or a badness into the food that we
consume– that we eat. The topic of food safety is
an important one, of course. But there’s a much wider range
of potential ethical issues related to GMOs that’s
been under-examined from our perspective. So tonight, we’d like your
help in simply broadening the important questions
about food safety or placing it as one potential
ethical concern among others in order to help us focus in on
the broader ethical questions about the impacts and roles
of GMOs in the environment, the topic of our panel
discussion tonight. Our goal in this
discussion is to help us unpack and understand
this range– this broad range of
environmental concerns about genetically
modified organisms. And we had worried
that there may be some vehement emotional
affect going on in the room tonight around genetically
modified organisms. I’m excited about that. In fact, a colleague of mine
at the Rock Ethics Institute told me today, the
best thing that could happen from the
Rock’s perspective is shouting at a research
ethics lecture event. I take a more moderate
approach than that. So I’d prefer we
don’t have shouting. If there’s shouting, it’s
a little out of my control, much like the video stream. So but part of the appeal
for me for an event like this is the even-keeled
discussion that can come out from a group of
very different perspectives talking about a very
potentially heated topic. So with that, introductions. Going from my right farther
to my right, as it turns out, we’ve got Dave Mortensen,
a professor of weed in applied plant ecology here
at Penn State University. Mortensen applies his background
in applied plant ecology and ecologically
based pest management to improve the sustainability
of land resource management. His work explores the
interplay between the ecology of agricultural fields, field
edges, and forest fragments. Next, to Dr.
Mortensen’s right, we’ve got Dr. Bart Gremmen, a
professor of ethics and life sciences at Wageningen
University and senior research associate at the Oxford Uehiro
Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. He manages the society
clusters in the Centre for Biosystems Genomics. And his current research focuses
on the ethical and societal issues in emerging technologies,
genomics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering,
and synthetic biology. To Dr. Gremmen’s right,
we have Paul Thompson. Professor Thompson holds
the WK Kellogg Chair in agricultural food
and community ethics at Michigan State
University in East Lansing. His research has centered
on ethical and philosophical questions associated
with agriculture and food and especially concerning
the guidance and development of agricultural technoscience. This research focus has
led him to undertake a series of projects on the
application of recombinant DNA techniques to agricultural
crops and food animals. And finally, to Dr.
Thompson’s right, we have Professor
Kyle Whyte, who’s an assistant professor of
philosophy at Michigan State University and affiliated
faculty for peace and justice studies, environmental science
and policy at the Center for Regional Food Systems,
Animal Studies, and American Indian Studies. Professor Whyte writes
on environmental justice, the philosophy of technology,
and American Indian philosophy. His most recent
research addresses moral and political
issues concerning climate change impacts on
indigenous communities. So I’m very excited to have
this four, as you can tell, very diverse group of panelists
before you this evening. And we’re excited
for the conversation. As I said, the last thing I want
to do for you in just a couple of minutes is to tell you the
story that we tell ourselves at the Rock Ethics Institute
about ethical decision-making. And I want to keep
this pretty simple. There’s a lot more to say. But just so we all have some
sort of standard approach, we think in terms of a
three-part understanding of research ethics at the
Rock Ethics Institute. The first component of
this is research integrity. Research integrity is a phrase
you’ve heard at the university before having to do with codes
of ethics, regulations, laws, and policies. And that’s often
what’s taught in sort of the standard
responsible [INAUDIBLE] of research programs. What we try to do here at
the Rock Ethics Institute is think about a second
level to that discussion– broader impacts, a phrase
we’ve pulled from the National Science Foundation. Broader impacts
applies directly as it seems to these broader social
and political and ethical impacts that happen outside
of the experimental design, outside of the
scientific process, but directly from– causally
related– to that process. And there’s a third level. And this is perhaps
the most complex one but I think fundamentally
the most important one. And this our
director Nancy Tuana has called embedded ethics. And embedded ethics is an
understanding of the ways that values and norms
are embedded or imbued through the practice of science,
fundamentally from the framing. Even the framing
the questions we ask of scientists
and researchers, there are norms and values
that guide that process. And so a goal for
our research ethics lecture series and again
for our panel this evening is to get at all three of
those inter-related levels. There are lots of different
ways this can happen. There are a lot– this is
a very complex problem, as you’ll see this evening. So there are going to
be a variety of values, variety of topics discussed. And hopefully, by the
end of the evening, you’ll have a bigger– a better
understanding of the breadth of issues addressed. And in fact, my colleagues
Mike and Kristen and I did a little experiment where
we listed out some topics and some values we thought
were at stake in genetically modified organisms. And we mapped those. We did a concept map. And we made circles at
each concept or value that we thought
was most important. And the least important
got the smallest circle. We did this independently
and compared. And even for the three of us,
who have done this lit review and worked together
for several months, came up with very different
personal values around GMOs. So this is something
else to keep in mind. And the power of a discussion
like this this evening is that we’ve all got very
different perspectives. And even though there
may be a lot of overlap– I hope there is a
lot of overlap– the varying perspectives
are what we’re after. Trying to understand the
strength of other people’s perspectives is key to doing
this work in research ethics. So with that, my
long-winded spiel, I’m very happy to
introduce our panelists. Please help me welcome
them, and we’ll get started. [APPLAUSE] So thank you, panelists,
for joining us. We just wanted to start
with a very broad question that you might each
address in turn. It’s broad in the
sense that we’re interested in what
ethical issues related to this topic of GMOs
in the environment do you think are
the most important? -So I can start. I guess I would list three
issues broadly defined. I think the first, I might
have initially characterized it as the labeling issue. But I think it’s
a broader issue. It really has to do with
the impact of GMOs– but really it’s not limited
to GMOs– on people’s ability to have control over what
they eat, what they grow, and to be able to pursue a
pretty broad set of values in terms of the way that
they relate to their food. The second one I would
say would be issues around intellectual property. These are not entirely
separate issues. And then the third
that I would list would be, what about–
what will actually be the ultimate impact on
farmers in developing countries that we associate
with the whole package of intellectual
property rights, market structure, international
trade rules that are wrapped around GMO technology? I think those would be the three
questions I’d [? surface. ?] -OK, I would like to add to
that the problem of naturalness because when you look
at the environment, is it natural that there
are GMOs in the field? And what’s the impact? And my answer would
be that that question you can ask of any
plant in the field because for
thousands of years we have domesticated all kinds
of plants without any problem. And now suddenly there are
other plants called GMOs, and they are a problem. And my point is maybe there
are lots of ethical problems, like Paul mentions. But are they specific of GMOs? I would like to say no. -I think the one that I
think about most and concerns me most is the tight
link between genetically modified crops and the input
traits that bred to perform as. So most of the
genetic modification of the overwhelming majority
has been to basically alter the way we use chemical
inputs– herbicides, insecticides, in particular,
fungicides, as well. And what we’re seeing is,
at least on the weed side– and actually, I did some
phoning with colleagues in the Midwest in the
field of entomology– perhaps with some of the
crops for insect protection, but certainly with weeds
is genetically engineering the crops so that you can
use a pesticide, a herbicide. And those herbicides are
failing due to resistance. And we’re using more and
more of the herbicides. We’ve projected two-
to three-fold increases in herbicides. 80% of the pesticides used
in US grain production are herbicides. So when we increase herbicide
production two- to three-fold, we’re increasing pesticide
use almost by the same amount. That’s a big concern of mine. I think it raises all
sorts of ethical questions that trouble me. -As you may have
caught from my bio, I’m a participatory researcher. And I’m also a tribal member. And I work directly
with tribes in terms of building indigenous
nationhood, mainly in North America. But I’ve also done some
work internationally. And one of the key
environmental issues with GMOs that a lot of folks that
I work with bring up is that a lot of
indigenous people place importance
on relationships that their communities have had
with certain plants and animals since time immemorial. And there’s a concern
that GMO technology might be disruptive of
those relationships or that there is
no way that they could know in advance before
those technologies are deployed. Another issue is that
indigenous people have their own conceptions
of environmental stewardship, their own conceptions
of food production and food sovereignty. And there’s also a concern
that the introduction of certain GMOs will be
disruptive of the kind of biodiversity or
conservation practices that indigenous
people favor and value and may have been doing
for a long, long time. And finally, there’s
also an issue. I work with tribes,
too, that are involved in commercial agriculture,
and the commercial forestry, and industries that you see
non-native people also involved in. And there is a concern
that tribal governments won’t be able to exercise the
kind of regulatory authority or the authority over how
research is used to protect their citizens from potential
environmental impacts of the introduction of
GMOs through commercial use or through experimentation. -I’d like to follow up both,
I think, with Kyle and Bart. I think I’d like to
draw a connection there. So one of the ethical issues
that Kristen and Mike and I had drawn out is this idea of
sanctity or naturalness some people have cashed on in
terms of an organism’s telos or its end-related development. And I think, Kyle,
it relates directly to questions about
connectedness to place that you’re drawing
out from your work in indigenous philosophy, too. But I wonder if the
panel could respond to this idea that– the argument
that an animal or plant’s genetic code has some sort
of inherent naturalness to it or sanctity to it. And that’s a reason why we ought
not manipulate it genetically. This is an argument that we
hear often in the literature and often in public
debates, as well. And there’s a– it’s a– it’s
one of those deeply ontological questions, really, these
deeply fundamental questions about a thing’s being. So I wonder if you
might respond to that. -Yeah, the problem
is genes don’t exist. They are something– a
conceptual unity in science. And if you look back from
the historical perspective, the concept of gene is
constantly changing. So 100 years ago, it meant
a totally different thing. And so science progress
means that some of the things they– the earlier
knowledge is outdated, buried. And so if you say natural
is connected to genes, that, I think– I don’t
think that fits well. Also, in sciences–
[? avolution ?] theory and evolution
theory, in my mind, says that plants, organisms
in general, constantly change, adapt. And the environment changes. They– the plants changes. So if– how could then the
current genome of a plant be sacred? Because it is just evolved. And OK, integrity is
something else, where you say, OK, we as humans, are we
allowed to open up the genome and insert things that
are more or less never– that could never have been
inserted in a plant whatsoever? For example, one of
the first patents was about scorpion
genes in lettuce. And Greenpeace in Europe used
this as to say, OK, people. That’s what’s going to happen. Poison in your food. And I think, OK, that’s
a kind of emotion. It is also– it was
a real bad patent. So it was not just fantasy. But, of course, it’s all
about what are we going to do then with the genes of
scorpions, yes or no? I mean, because also– we
could also take a potato and use resistant genes
from the wild varieties. And I think nobody
would say, OK, that’s wrong because a
potato in the same species– it’s called cisgenesis
now– why is that wrong? Yeah, it takes you
only a few years. And doing it another way take
you maybe 20 years or 50 years. So OK, for me, there is no–
that the argument, it is, yeah, sacred is, from a
scientific point of view, not feasible. -Yeah, I’d like to
address that question from a different angle. In the Great Lakes region,
where I do most of my work, if you look at the history
of settler colonialism, tribes had their own way of
stewarding the environment. And those ways of
stewardship were tied to how tribes
governed themselves. And so if you look at things
that settler societies did, like the US, such as
deforestation and pollution of water and so on,
each of those changes to the environment then
threatened those tribal family structures and clan structures
and political structures that were associated with those
particular plants and animals or with those particular
resources, like water. So on the one hand, you get
this idea that for tribes trying to resist and carve out a space
to live in the face of settler colonialism, it’s important to
be able to maintain certain kinds of relationships
to the same plants and animals as in the same ones that
your ancestors lived with because it’s hard to
motivate a lot of people to want to conserve and protect
the environment if they don’t see themselves as participating
in those tribal systems of stewardship so
that it’s really a very important strategy for
resisting settler colonialism and for living at
peace with yourself to be able to engage in
practices that really can only be done with certain
plants and animals. So for a lot of tribes, they
see the potential introduction of a genetically modified
organism as potentially disruptive of that. Now, on the other
hand, the same tribes that are doing a lot of work
to protect important plants and animals are also engaging
in all sorts of other endeavors like I mentioned earlier–
commercial agriculture, commercial forest
products, and so on. So this is not to
say that everything that tribes do is based on the
sanctity and the sacredness of certain plants and animals. But you can’t take
that away from tribes as a significant
part of our being able to adapt to
settler colonialism and to be able to
live good lives. And the sorts of
implementations that could come out of research on
genetically modified organisms, if not properly regulated, I
think a lot of folks would say is a potential threat
to a lot of the progress that tribes have
made in this way. -So they’re two very
different perspectives on that topic of naturalness,
Dr. Gremmen suggesting that there’s nothing, let’s
say, metaphysically– nothing fundamentally at
stake in this concept of naturalness or sacredness as
it relates to genetic makeup. And Dr. Whyte, your
perspective seems to be that the importance
of a concept like sacredness or naturalness is that it
links a particular species to a particular place and to
a particular cultural history, cultural geography of
a particular people. So those are not unrelated. And yet they seem to be a little
bit at odds with each other. And I wondered, Dr.
Thompson and Dr. Mortensen, if you’d like to comment
on the difference. -Or I can also just jump in. -Please, please. No restrictions here. -Well, it’s not to– one
thing to suggest is, I mean, obviously it
depends on the tribe and depends on the
culture as well. But my position is
actually not to say that tribes– that when you
talk to people in Indian country that they have some view that
there was, like, this one kind of plant or animal that
going back to the creation story is always the one that
was– they’re a– tribes are very adaptive. And they’ve adapted
for years and years. And there’s been all
sorts of change going back to time immemorial. So I don’t think that
every tribe necessarily holds a view that goes against
what Bart’s view is, per se. But it is true, right, that
there are certain plants and animals that at
some point tribes had developed important
relationships with. And the potential of
genetic modification, if not properly regulated
and if the research is not done in collaboration
with tribes, especially respecting free
prior and informed consent, then it’s especially threatening
to indigenous communities that really have no reason to
trust the United States or an academic institution or a
non-governmental organization. I mean, take for example in my
culture, which is Anishinaabe, wild rice is one
of the key plants. And it’s actually in
our creation story, where we’re told to stop
migrating from the east when we arrived at the land
where food grows on water. And so harvesting rice
that grows in that way is extremely important. And so when universities
or others in the region want to do research on
genetic modification to support the
paddy rice industry, that, theoretically speaking,
is a potential threat to those family,
social, cultural, and political
practices associated with the rice that already
was growing in a certain way. -I think a danger in
being on a panel like this is that you can deceive
yourself into thinking you are an expert on a lot of things. And I’m not an expert on the
sanctity of introgression genes being placed in other organisms. But I did think about this a
lot over the last several days. Some of these questions were
shared with us in advance. And I have a problem as an
ecologist with the potential for altering the
genome of an organism– let’s take salmon
as an example– that are wild in the
ocean and where there is the potential for wild
populations of that organism to receive the genes that have
been inserted to confer weight gain or some metabolic handling
of food or something like this. And so for me, I think
the issue of sanctity comes up when I think about
how it is that traits that we insert in crops–
and I understand the argument about
genetically modified versus classical breeding;
I’m not naive about that. But traits that are taken
from another organism, put into salmon
that then wind up in wild relatives
of salmon that alter the fitness of those
salmon that are out crossing where the genes are
moving, that concerns me. I, similarly, have
colleagues that work in the region of the
world where maize is naturally growing as a wild relative. And the concern
about out crossing of some of these traits
into wild relatives, to me, is an area of
significant concern when it comes to the
sanctity of those organisms. And perhaps back to
Paul’s earlier comment– and I’m not sure this is
what he was alluding to. But I think there is also
a cultural concern when land races of a
crop in a culture are undermined by some of
the advanced genetics work that we do in the
West or other places and then introduce
those transformed plants into the wild
where they can be– or into a cultivated
cultural space where they can undo some of the land–
the integrity of the land race crops. -That’s something that had
been on our minds, as well. And we were wondering,
the three of us, I guess, but more
generally, I think it’s interesting whether
there is an ethical difference between gene flow from a
GM crop to a wild species, as you were describing in
the case of– potential case of genetically modified– and
actual case of genetically modified salmon. So a difference
between gene flow from a GM crop to a wild
species or from a non-GMO crop to a wild species– if
there are different ethical considerations at play,
whether we should consider those in the same sort of vein. Where do you see the differences
between those two cases? -So I’ll start this one off. I mean, I do think that there
is a fairly long-standing tradition in ethics that would
see a systematic difference between a situation in
which in order to attribute responsibility for some sort
of unfortunate, untoward kind of causal consequence, you
need to have– you need to be able to tie that to
something that somebody did, right? So if there’s a tornado
and people lose their home, nobody’s responsible for that. We might say it’s an act of God. We might say it’s chance, right? You know, somebody probably
did some conventional breeding to produce this
traditional plant. However, at least until
comparatively recently, they didn’t know very much
about what the genes were in that traditional plant. And it would have been
difficult to make a claim of ethical responsibility. So I do think that there
is a sense in which the increased power and
control that goes along with genetic engineering
correlates with an increased sense of ethical responsibility
for what happens. Now, if you sort of move away
from the human activity here and just want to evaluate
the consequences, I’m not necessarily sure that
there’s a lot of difference. I think it would certainly
be possible to create inadvertently the
kind of scenario that you’ve described
with the salmon with some plant or animal that
have been conventionally bred. I hope that was clear. [CHUCKLES] -And for me, I think
I would be looking– I would want to look at it as
a trait-by-trait kind of basis. And I do believe– at least I’m
more familiar with the plant literature than I am
with animal literature– that there are jumps that
are possible that are very difficult through
classical breeding in terms of enhanced biomass
production or resistance to some xenobiotic
applied to the plant or something like that. So I do see a
distinction in that way. -It’s also, you could
say, a matter of context because if you have these
modified salmon in Norway in a situation where
they can escape, then maybe after a while
the escapees will mate with all the wild ones. And there are only
the hybrids left. So that would– a argument,
biodiversity will be damaged. But you can also say, why
not use them in a contained– in containers somewhere
where they cannot escape? So for example in Israel
they started with GM algae. They did this in
the desert where they have these containers
so they couldn’t escape because if the
algae would escape, it would be a disaster. And maybe the whole
world would suffer. So you could say that is a kind
of way to secure that as there is no way to escape. Of course, somebody could
take them and throw them in a pond, of course. So but, yeah, there’s
always the human aspect that terrorist
activity could do that. But you could say there is
a case-by-case, step-by-step rationality, where it’s not
a general principle, that you look at it case by
case, step by step. And then the context
is very important. -It’s interesting
to hear us move. We started asking questions
about this norm of sanctity and naturalness that came up. And we’ve shifted
a little bit now, thinking about something
along the lines of a value of stability,
whether that’s biological or
ecological stability. And Dr. Gremmen, you
brought up biodiversity, which is one of these
heavily normative terms. We think biodiversity and its
conservation is a good thing. And we ought to
promote biodiversity. So we were wondering
if there’s any way that genetically modified
crops or species could improve biodiversity? Or alternatively, if you think
that’s not the right way to go, to what extent could
genetically modified organisms harm biodiversity? -[INAUDIBLE] this. The biodiversity is
an American invention. [LAUGHTER] When the biologist
at some place thought that their colleagues
got all the grants– the molecular science
took all the money, and the field
biologist and ecologist were wondering what to do. And then they came
up with the idea to use the word biodiversity. And I read it in
someone’s autobiography, “Living with Ants,”
it’s called, I think, that he more or less
strategically used this in policy. And he says, biodiversity
itself is maybe a scientific terminology. But it’s not a value-laden–
it was not a policy or whatever ethical thing. And you could say
that, of course, every new GM
organism is a plus– is added to biodiversity. But that’s, I think,
a simple fact. But also from evolution,
you could also say, will they survive? If we got– in the
Netherlands, we got potatoes, and we get GM potatoes. We have– you don’t have them. But we have them
in trial fields. If they stay in the
winter, they die. So you could also
say, it doesn’t matter because is there
evolutionary benefit for the organism? If not, it will die anyhow. So there is a kind of fitness. And there’s a kind of evolution
process where GMOs are grown, then these genes will be
blocked or the plants will die. So that’s also a
possibility, that. But of course they could become. Sometimes it could
become in some sort of circumstance a pest. And then other species may
suffer so and become extinct. So there, the competition
between– and that’s the idea of super
weeds coming up. -I wanted to just add that
for some of the tribes I work with that are
doing restoration work, like, say in the case of
restoration of sturgeon for Anishinaabe people in
the Great Lakes, so sturgeons another important species. It’s a clan species. And other clans are actually–
have responsibilities in relation to sturgeon. Sturgeon have moral
responsibilities back to those clans. Terms like biodiversity and so
on, for a lot of native folks, right, it always
includes human beings as part of that diversity. So a lot of arguments
you see with, like, sturgeon restoration
is that it’s important to try to
restore the same sturgeon. I don’t know if you guys have
read the history of degradation of sturgeon, but it’s among the
horrors of settler colonialism in North America, given
the importance of sturgeon to a lot of tribes. And so a lot of folks
are going to say that it’s extremely
important that it’s the same sturgeon
because on the one hand– and I’m not a scientist, so I’ll
just speak to what people say. But the same
sturgeon, for example, might be better adapted
to that particular area. And it’s also the case,
like I was saying before, that the same sturgeon that
was related to the families and clans and so on
in that area is also the one that’s going to be
more motivational for people to be better stewards of
the environment, right? So there, if you have a focus
on restoring a particular kind of– and I’ll use the
term biodiversity– to a certain kind
of biodiversity, right, is often seen as
having both benefits in terms of those plants or
animals being more adaptive in that area, even
the things like climate change, but also having that
motivational aspect to it, to the human beings
that live there. And actually, you see, like
in sturgeon restoration that when non-native
people who live in the area see the way in which
tribes identify with that same sturgeon, then
they get a kind of motivation as well to be better
stewards of the environment. So with some of the
groups I work with, you see arguments like this. And I think they’re very
important arguments. -I think it’s also important–
it’s maybe the main point that I would like to
leave with the audience while we’re here
tonight– to recognize that genetic modification
doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens as part of
a production system. And so when Jonathan asks
about the potential impacts of the technology
and biodiversity, the first thing that
comes to my mind is the fact that when it is a
package– and so to be clear, the package is that you
alter the crop genome using genetic modified
methods– so that you can apply a herbicide that would
otherwise kill the crop plant, that herbicide use
practice and the GMO are inextricably linked. They are one in the
same, in my mind. And when that herbicide
starts to fail, which is what has happened
on a very significant amount of the acreage across the United
States– like 60 million acres, so approaching half of the
corn and soybeans grown in the United States. When that starts to fail and
the technological solution is to put more
genes into the crop so that the crop can sustain
the application of more herbicide active ingredients,
we’re increasing herbicide use. And disturbingly,
we’re increasing the use of certain
herbicides that are particularly active on
plants in the landscape, whether that’s in the
agricultural field, in the edges of the fields
adjacent to the agricultural fields, and in
the– what we think of as the non-crop land adjacent
to agricultural fields– raparian zones and
hay fields, et cetera. So I have quite a
concern about the impact of the packaged technology
on flouristic biodiversity. And we have students
here at Penn State that have been
studying the impact of uncoupling between insects
and plants– desirable insects. When you reduce the
plant diversity, the insects that depend
on those plants– and some of our entomologists
would argue that many of the beneficial insects–
the biocontrol insects that naturally occur in
the landscape– they rely on one to
three plant species to complete their life cycle. They’re high fidelity insects. They have to have those
plants on the landscape to complete their lifecycle. Parasitoids, for
example, are such insects that help with pest suppression
in our agricultural fields. If we take that
flouristic diversity and dial it down
through the package, we are not only dialing down
the flouristic diversity but the insects that
depend on those plants. So that’s why at the outset,
when you were asking about what is the ethical issue
that most concerns you, the ethical issue that most
concerns me is packaging. -And it’s a concern
specifically because of the nature of
the systems problem. So to come full circle
now to this question about biodiversity that we
started with a minute ago, biodiversity is a
normatively laden concept, for better or worse. It’s got some goodness
inherent to the idea that whatever its origins–
whether that’s from [INAUDIBLE] in
the ’60s in the US, which it probably is– it’s
taken on a life of its own. It’s really gained
a lot of prevalence. And I think one of
the key takeaways that I think is really important
in this conversation about GMOs in the environment
is specifically, Dr. Mortensen, this idea that
GMOs are a systems problem. So we were wondering, if
it’s the case that I think Dr. Gremmen used this
idea of super weeds, right, that one potential
problem with a monoculturing of crops is that it leads to
pesticide-resistant weeds, which in turn, as you described,
leads to further doubling or tripling or quadrupling of
pesticide and herbicide use, whether there are viable
options or alternatives to that approach. We seem be stuck
right now in a cycle where this is– feels
like an inevitability. So breaking out of a complex
systems problem like this, do you have thoughts
on how that’s possible? If that’s possible? -Since you’re looking at
me, Jonathan, I’ll start. But we need to not have me
dominating the microphone on this. I think that we– it’s
essential that we ratchet up the research that’s
needed to come up with more robust solutions
to pest management. I’ll say that right up front. So do we have the solutions? I know that we need to
make improvements on what we do have as alternatives. But there is work going
on here elsewhere. And I’m not just
saying research work. But I’m saying farmers
doing the practice, farmers, through participatory research,
working with other farmers to identify robust solutions to
their pest-management problems that include such things as
cover cropping, that includes such things as considering
to not plant the GMO crop every once in a while
so that you switch out of the pesticide
regime that you’re in. That is selecting
for resistance. It’s a practice– or at least
that particular stewardship recommendation was one that a
number of us made 10 years ago and that unfortunately
wasn’t adopted because the belief, at
least on the part of some, was that resistance
wouldn’t become a problem. Interestingly, in 1996, some of
the industry’s own scientists published a peer-reviewed
paper in which they said, resistance can happen. And I guess I just
would just say that my confidence
that salmon can escape a hatchery or a waterway is
about as high as my confidence that weeds don’t
evolve resistance to [INAUDIBLE] herbicide now
that we have 28 species that have evolved resistance
since 1996 that now infest 60 million acres. So I think we have to be real. We know biology. We know population genetics. We should put the best
science and the best minds and also be honest
about what we know and what’s likely to happen,
as opposed to either burying– at least in the case of the
weeds now– burying our heads in the sand or being
dishonest about the likelihood that these resistance
problems would arise. -So I guess the other
thing I’d add here is something that
Dave’s already said, but just that it is
very trait specific. And so when you ask
a question like, is there a problem with
GMOs and biodiversity, it’s a little bit
like asking, is there a problem with
electrical appliances and taking a shower, right? Maybe if you’ve got your
radio sitting on your bathtub there’s a problem. But that’s probably
not something you should worry about with
respect to your toaster, you know? And there are very
likely some applications of genetic engineering in
plants that don’t really raise significant
biodiversity concerns. So I think I just want to
underline this point that when you focus on something
as broad a class as GMO, you sometimes lose
sight of the fact that most of the particularly
biodiversity concerns are actually tied to specific
traits and specific kinds of agricultural applications. -Got hung up there for a
minute because I really want to write down your
toasters and water example. That’s cute. So there’s a lot going on here. And I want to keep things
moving along pretty well. But I wanted to shift a little
bit to talk about, I think, a related issue to the
conversation we’ve been having. Especially, Dr. Whyte,
from your perspective, there seem to be some really
deeply embedded social justice issues around the development
and the implementation of genetically modified crops. And we have an
audience question here that I’d like to bring up now. So the question is,
if– and in parentheses, “and that is a big if”– GMOs
were the only answer to future world hunger, would all other
ethical issues evaporate? There’s something
to be– there’s a question here
about related to food but related to
larger concerns, too, and the role that genetically
modified crops and animal species can play in
questions about world hunger. So we’ve got all this
range of ethical concerns. And so the hypothetical
scenario here is if GMOs were the only answer
to this question of world hunger, would we then not
worry about these broader environmental concerns–
these broader concerns, ethical concerns, generally? -Well, I guess I’m
inclined to say no. I think even under
that hypothetical, what we would be in is a
situation where– and I’m probably going to sound
more negative to GM because of the way this question’s been
phrased than I actually am. But we’d be in a
situation where we faced a kind of tragic choice. I mean, you know, how about
a different hypothetical? The only solution
to world hunger is to reinstitute human slavery. Would we do it? We probably would. Would we feel good
about that ethically? We shouldn’t feel good
about that ethically. So just because something
is the only solution doesn’t mean that the
ethical issues go away. It just makes it a
tragic situation. -Why I think for–
I mean, for tribes, and because I’m a climate ethics
and climate justice person, you hear a lot of
comments like this, right. I mean, a lot of
folks would say, well, if that was really
the case, then tribes would make it work,
just like they made it work with commodity foods, right? You get fried bread, which now
has great cultural and social value to it, even
though it’s bad for you. Tribes would make it work. But tribes would engage
with GMOs differently. They would look at
research differently. They would develop the
technologies differently. They would regulate
them differently. There’s a– it’s a stereotype
that native people, native cultures are stagnant. They are based on one thing
that’s sort of trapped in time. But that’s actually
not true, right? If you look historically,
native cultures were based on the
notion of adaptation. They were always
adapting, whether that was across the
different seasons, right, depending on what culture
you’re from, how you understood those seasons, what
environment you’re living in, but also adapting to meta-scale
forces, as well, right? So for native people,
adaptation is the norm. And with settler
colonialism, adaptation ramped up quite a bit, right? Like in North America
with the fur trade and on going through a number
of traumas and problems. So I think that’s what a
lot of folks would say, that they would adapt. But still, native people
would do things differently and would have different
standards than others. And a lot of the power issues
that have been discussed here wouldn’t necessarily go away. So it would still be
the responsibility of non-native people and people
representing settler states to try to build trust
with native people, right, to try to alleviate some
of the concerns about power differentials and other ethical,
political, and justice issues. Another thing I wanted
to add to that I think was related to other
questions, right, an example of what might
happen in such a future, right, if native people then
had to engage in GMO research and cultivate those kinds
of plants and animals and so on is the
current political system that native people use adequate. That is our treaty rights,
reservation, boundaries, trust lands. All these sort of
political jurisdictions and political tools
that native people use, would they be adequate? They still wouldn’t be
adequate in that era, right? I mean, for a lot of tribes,
you’ve got a small area of land that you have jurisdiction
over, and it’s fixed. It doesn’t move. It’s not going to move. In fact, in a lot of cases,
it might be shrinking. So if we’re having
a future where GMOs is the only
solution, tribes are still going to press for
the same changes that they’re pressing
for now, right, which is the obliteration
of things like boundaries and borders that don’t
come from tribes, but they come from
the settler society. And they’re meant to
enclose tribal people. So that’s another issue that
I think would remain even than that sort of future. -To shift just a little bit,
although I think it’s related, we had a question for
you about whether or not consumers or
individuals generally have the right to
be informed as to whether or not a food has
been genetically modified. And we were thinking
in the context of Vermont’s recent Right
to Know GMO Coalition, which is currently
facing legal challenges. But we had a very
closely related question from the audience. And here that question is. Labels can convey
useful information to inform an electorate in this
advanced democratic processes. Labels can also
function as a brand to capture markets and even be
used as propaganda to advance a political agenda. So this question is
asking you to discuss the ethics of
labeling GMOs, maybe related to these
state-based initiatives and how the method of the
label influences its function. So this is a question
about the sort of– it’s an epistemic question about
the ability of consumers or the public,
broadly construed, to understand what’s going
on in genetic modification in the food stream and in
wider contexts as well. -So this is actually an
issue that I’ve been writing on for 20 some odd years. So to state the case
against mandatory labels, one of the problems with any
kind of law, whether it’s a state law or federal policy,
that would require labeling is that it’s a form
of compulsory speech. And we have a fairly
strong tradition. And it’s a tradition
I actually think I would support in
the United States, that we’re very cautious
about circumstances in which we require someone
to speak or to identify themselves. And those conditions usually
involve pretty high burdens of proof that there’s
some potential risk. So if you’re a
convicted felon, and you move into the neighborhood,
we have laws that require you to disclose that. And that’s because we
believe that there’s a significant risk. And parents in the neighborhood
have a right to know that. If you are producing something
that has some sort of risk to the people that use
it or that handle it, that would be
information that might be required to be disclosed. But we don’t require
you to disclose what your racial or
ethnic background is if you want to buy a house. We don’t require you to disclose
what religious tradition you come from if you
want to buy a house. And in fact, we actually have a
pretty strong burden of proof– or pretty strong tradition
which would suggest that that’s actually problematic. So in– to get back
to the GMO question, I mean, this actually
does get wrapped up in some of the
substantive risk questions because if the scientific
consensus is that the food safety risks are not
there or that some of the environmental
risks are not there, then that’s going to cut very
strongly against any kind of requirement that one label. Now I would also
argue– and I have argued in print on
numerous occasions– that what people deserve
and have a right to is– I’m going to use a
technical word– exit. They have a right to not eat
genetically engineered foods if they don’t want to. And so the reason why
some sort of label would be material to
that is that it allows them to exercise that right. They– we would
regard it as horrible if you put people who
observe kosher or halal rules into a position
where they could not make dietary choices on
the basis of those kinds of cultural beliefs. There is no scientific
backing for that. We would find it
really problematic if you put most of the
people in this room into a position where they
couldn’t choose not to eat meat from dogs or cats. There is no scientific
basis for that. It’s perfect– you can eat
meat from dogs and cats, but it’s not going to make
you sick or problematic. But we have fairly strong
culturally based beliefs that we shouldn’t be
put in a position. Now, it’s very
easy in our society to avoid being put in a position
where you eat dogs or cats. So this doesn’t come up as a
big thing for public debate. But if we created
a situation that made it impossible
for people to eat on the basis of cultural,
political, outright wacky values, you don’t really need
to have a good justification for what you think are your
basis for what you want to eat. So we have come close to that
with genetic engineering. And I think we were
actually in that situation in the late ’90s. Now, the way you avoid
it is you eat organic. That’s– it’s a label that sort
of functions to predict exit. I don’t think it’s
a good enough label. I would like to see the
food industry embrace some sort of non-GMO
labeling as a kind of service and as a kind of acknowledgment
of the importance of this cultural
issue to consumers. But I’m not entirely
sure that I want to go so far as to endorse laws
that compel companies to label. So it’s a really
tricky situation. I sort of waffle on this. I feel like the food industry
has been so recalcitrant and so resistant to this that I
think if this law came up in Michigan, I’d vote for it. But I do see that there’s a
real serious ethical problem associated with these mandatory
labeling kinds of laws. -It’s made even trickier by
our thoughtful audience, who just suggested that there’s
a potential for labeling GMOs to be seen as unethical even
because that food is typically cheaper, according to
this questionnaire. And so there’s an
economic justice question about a question of access
that only individuals of a particular level of
income can eat organic, as you might suggest. And so– -You know– – –labeling GMOs might have
a negative effect, ethically. -I don’t think a voluntary
label would necessarily have that effect. I mean, it would
be very comparable to the organic label. Many people assume
that because something is labeled as organic, it’s
either higher quality or or healthier. And it– I think you have
exactly the same kind of impact associated
with the organic level. Yet you know, of course,
a lot of people– organic is still only at something
like 5% to 7% of the food that people purchase. So I rather suspect
that even if we had foods that were
labeled as containing GMOs, or my preference
would be GMO-free, you’d see people sort
that out on the basis of their own values. -To push the boundaries of that
a little bit– and I think, Dr. Mortensen, this might
be a question for you. Several people have asked about
a fundamental problem they see as a question of who decides. So it’s a policy
question directly related to this idea of
labeling and knowledge about GMOs or GM substances in
our environment, in our food. So who does decide, from
a policy perspective? Should it be the
federal government who regulates new GM technology? Should it be up to the states? Should it be an individual
choice based on something like labeling? I know you’ve done
some work in here in Pennsylvania in
our legislature. So you might be able to
respond in a local way. -Yes, a group of us
were down appearing in front of the House Ag
and Rural Affairs Committee last week. And I would say that
question didn’t come up. The question of
labeling didn’t come up. Actually, it was a
lot of discussion of the science, the backdrop. And so I– who decides? Maybe first, I have given this
subject also a lot of thought. And I have not written
anything about it, in contrast to Paul’s
spending a great deal of time and thought on this subject. And for me, it actually gets
very personal because I’ve been following and
deeply engaged in this– in legislation that
actually will allow this new wave of crops
with these new genes and very significant
increase in herbicide use. That actually has
tipped me to think that labeling is a good idea. I’m not sure that I thought
that three or four years ago. But I think that
now because I think that the impact of the input
traits on our cropping systems and the aggregation of
pesticides and GMO traits leads me to think that there are
better ways to produce crops. And they can be
produced conventionally, not necessarily organically. During one of the discussions
we had over the lunch hour, before I had to
run off to teach, someone was making
the point that what would be the point
of GMO-free labeling when most of our grain crops
are already GMO grain crops? Pennsylvania soybean
production, 93% or 95% of it was genetically modified
this past summer. But the fact is that most
all of the vegetables are not genetically
modified, nor are the fruits. Most of the crops that we
eat fresh are not modified. And so I see a value. I don’t know what
the cost of that is to the food
production system. I know that segregation–
keeping things separate in the supply
chain– costs something. But I don’t see anything
wrong with the consumer, which I believe has a right to know
how the food was produced, and I do believe that there
are environmental costs to this packaging,
as I’ve described. So who does that? I am not sure. Obviously, as you know, as
you just stated, Vermont. So it’s being done at a
state-by-state level right now. There is a bill in front of
the Pennsylvania legislature. And I don’t know how all
that’s going to unfold. So right now, my
sense is it’s being handled at the state level. And the decisions will
be made by legislators and by the voting public. Are you concerned about this? And that’s, I think, how
it– as it should be. And so in my opinion, then,
it becomes really important when we talk about these issues
here at Penn State, and all these folks in the room, and
the students hear this from me when they take my classes. I feel passionately
about this, that we have to work to connect the
people to the food system. You can’t have people
voting for things. You can’t have folks having
meaningful discussions in our cities and rural areas
across the United States about food policy if we don’t
understand our food system. So I am convinced–
absolutely convinced– that we have to make a
concerted push to bring along the public so that we are able
to have a democratic discussion about the methods by which we
produce our food in the way that we label them. So I think it’s like, to me,
it’s a two-pronged thing. We need to have the education
moving aggressively, thoughtfully, creatively,
connecting people to the food system. And then at the
same time, we need to be look– taking a critical
and open debate and discussion about the ways that we currently
are producing the food so that we can get informed
policy as quickly as possible and then enhance
that as we go along. -Relatedly, Dr. Gremmen,
we’ve had several questions from the audience about
policy implications in the European context as it
relates to the United States context. We’ve had a question
about whether or not– what you think of the European
Union’s de facto moratorium on licensing of GM applications
and also whether or not or to what extent the sorts
of methodologies– uses of genetically
modified organisms are the same in Europe. For instance, does Norway
have Roundup Ready crops? Is this the– is there
enough parallel to– for you to feel comfortable
in a discussion like this? -Yeah, for one thing,
there’s a huge difference between United States and
Europe because here it’s all about substantial
equivalence. And in Europe, we look at the
whole process and methods. And we don’t look– we
look at the method and not at the product. So the product is not important. It’s about how you do this. And if you use GM
method, it’s already even soy or kind of a product is
free of all at the– in the end where you check it,
there is no GMO visible, then in Europe still, there is,
you could say, a regulation. And the regulation is severe and
also a lot– very complicated, many stages, loops. And you have to spend maybe 1
billion euros on one new crop. And only fairly big
international companies can do that. And even then, there
are only two crops now that are allowed in the EU. However, every country has
the right to refuse this. So Spain is one of the few
countries where there is corn. And the other
thing is that a lot of the applications,
after a while end up at the desk of
the European Commission. And then they have to be signed. And there is no time frame
in the regulation to do that. So they don’t. They just don’t sign it off. So years later,
it’s still waiting. And of course, this is
a kind of strange thing. It’s– also, the new
commissioner in– that is in charge of this
regulation says, I want to make it more simple
and also to give individual countries more
power– autonomy– meaning that a lot of the
countries– seven countries, like Italy or France or–
they just, of course, will not use GM in the future. So there’s a lot of opposition. And maybe it can be
the case that is even, as you suggested earlier, maybe
that even companies themselves, they ask in the first place
for regulation in the past. So but now they
are more the victim of their own, yeah, ideas
because now they can only play when they have a lot of money. And probably from a
trade perspective, it is OK to keep all M
companies out of Europe and have their own seats
and make a lot of money because most of
the seed companies, they invest 1 cents or
2 cents in the seat, and they can ask 50
euro cents, making a bag of 1 kilo of
tomato seed is more precious than a kilo of gold. So these companies earn a lot. They earn already
a lot in the past. But they are comfortable in
not using GM in vegetables and just go on as
they always did. And only the companies having
chemicals– the link– they, of course, pressure to
get in and to sell also their chemicals. And I think there
is indeed a kind of– but if, like
Monsanto, a few years ago, tried to at back door, introduce
GM potatoes in Bulgaria and for free– give
them to farmers for free only because Bulgaria was on
the verge of coming into the EU. And then the EU had the
problem because then there was a country using. And then they– there
was a precedent. So yeah, I said to
the guy from Monsanto, I thought you were now
more or less ethical, committed to ethical actions
and not to just do this. And he said, yeah, but
this is our new strategy. [CHUCKLES] And we
hope that the past– what we did, the bad reputation
of the past– is now gone. But I think, yeah,
introducing it in that way is still
not ethically sound. -Well, so far this
evening, we’ve covered quite a lot of ground. One other category
of ethical issue that we had thought
of as a panel that’s come up in questions
from our audience as well are questions
about health– human health and non-human welfare, both. So I’ve got questions that
relate both to those topics, whether or not any long-term
health studies have been done on the effects of GM crops
or organisms on human health and also whether
genetic modification of non-human
organisms has harmed any way– any non-human
organisms have been harmed in
the implementation of genetic modification. And the example
there was coming back to the example of the
genetically modified salmon. So these questions
about health and welfare seem to be another
ethical issue that we’d like to have the panel
address a little bit. And you could take either
one of those approaches, whether you’re interested in
questions about human health or non-human welfare. But both of those
things, I think, are pretty intimately related. So thoughts on
health or welfare. -So the answer to have there
been any long-term studies done would certainly be no. I don’t think there have been
any long-term studies done on any food item as
it relates to health. And it would be
actually very difficult to figure out how you
would design such a study. So there have been,
primarily in Europe, very long-running studies on
animal health health associated with consumption of GM grains. And by very long, I’m talking
about, what, five, seven years– something like that? -Seven or something. -You know, GM crops basically
came on the market in 1997. So for a 30- or 40-
or 50-year trial, we still have a ways to go yet. As it relates to animal
health and well-being, I would come back
to the trait point. There have been
some modifications that very quickly were seen
to lead to horrendous impacts on animal health. And the animals were euthanized. There are some others that
are sort of in a gray zone. They may make– they may
involve exposing animals to higher rates of risk. Actually, a biotech
product that has been used in the United States
is rBST, or bovine growth hormone. It’s basically produced through
a recombinant bacterium. But it makes dairy
cows produce more. And in the United
States, the studies indicated that the animal
health issues associated with using rBST were
roughly comparable to that of all high-producing
dairy cows. And so the decision in
the United States was, well, the risk here is
high-producing dairy cows. If BST makes a cow move into
that group, all it’s doing is just putting you
into the same risk factors as other
high-producing dairy cows. In most other parts of the
world, it was actually– it has not been approved,
primarily on animal health reasons. And if the objective is to lower
the rate of animal disease, then things that
keep you from having more high-producing
dairy cows will do that. So there becomes a rationale
for not approving rBST on similar kinds of grounds. There have been some
transgenic animals produced, primarily to– there’s a herd
of transgenic cattle out in, I think, they’re
in South Dakota, that were produced
to produce a clotting factor for blood transfusions. I’ve never been out
to see those cows. I’d love to go out
and see them sometime. But all the reports
that I get is that those are very
normal cows who, because they have this
value, are living much, much longer than your
average dairy or beef cow. And they seem to be doing
just fine 10 to 15 years into this transformation. So again with the
toaster point, you can do modifications
that are terrible. But that doesn’t mean
that all GM is necessarily inimical to animal health. -I’d like to just cover two more
topics– value-laden topics. One of those is coming
from one of our viewers or, I hope viewers– potentially
listeners online this evening. And I think this is
an important facet that we haven’t touched
on explicitly but economic considerations. And so Mike and
Kristen and I– ah, so we’ve got
several comments now along this line about
economic considerations. So Mike and Kristen and I had
drafted a question for you about whether or
not farmers might become dependent on
corporate entities for crops for any
number of reasons. And one of our listeners
online has asked a question about whether or not
or to what extent we need a critique of capitalism
itself before we even get to these deeper lying
ethical considerations. And similarly, what are the
economic costs to herbicides or related to herbicides
and their use in GMOs might be addressed. So there is this whole gamut
that we’ve– that I’d like to touch on specifically
with you now about economic considerations, whether
that’s on farmers or whether that’s on systems in general–
capitalist systems specifically in this question. Comments on critiques
of capitalism. Kyle. -I would like to say that the
main reason for doing all this is that people–
consumers– are not willing to produce
the food themselves anymore, like in the past. Only 2% of the population
are farmers or less. So you could say
from economic point of view there was a
kind of differentiation, specialization. And the ones doing it need
large field to feed the rest. And if the rest
is saying, OK, we don’t like to eat meat
anymore because why do we use these large
quantities of maize and corn. Like [? in the ?] situation,
thank you very much, Brazil, Argentine, and
the US because you send us huge quantities of GM soy
and maize for our animals. And we couldn’t be
an exporter for milk if we couldn’t get that. So we use five or six times
the area of Holland to– in other countries– to
feed our cattle and pigs. So you could say, OK, if we
don’t do that anymore then the result is that people–
consumers– will get less food and almost no meat–
once a week, maybe. So that’s also a
choice, I would say. So monocropping,
using chemicals, fertilizer– it’s all
linked in a system to get plenty food
in the stores. So if you will change that,
from the economic point of view, a totally other
system, that’s fine. But then, of course, a
lot of lifestyle things have to change also. If people say to me, I’m so
glad that I can buy this broiler chicken meat from
the breast because it is neutral from taste, and
in five minutes’ time I just chop it up in the
pan, and it’s OK, some herbs, and because I
work all day and also my wife, it is– we eat within
10 minutes, great. But the broiler only
lives six weeks. So if you tell them,
are you prepared to let them [INAUDIBLE],
no, I’m not prepared. I want cheap meat that is from
that quality, and that’s it. So it’s a kind of strange thing
that people are so concerned and so about everything
that they, themselves, are, you could say, the main
reason why the system is there. -Dr. Whyte. -Yeah, on the issue
of capitalism– and I know capitalism
can mean a lot of things. So let’s just assume that what
I mean is what all of you mean, too. [LAUGHTER] So I was looking recently
at a white paper issued a couple of years ago from the
Chippewa tribe of Minnesota to the University of
Minnesota about research on genetically modified, or
research on the wild rice genome. And one of the lines
from that white paper was that the
Chippewa tribe really had a problem that
the university didn’t come to them from the
beginning and say, look, we’re interested in studying and
learning more about wild rice. Let’s figure out a program to
work on this together, right. The university presupposed
that the key thing to start with was understanding
the genome and not, say, for example, focusing on
water quality or another thing you could research to
learn more about wild rice. And so there you get this issue
that for a lot of native people it’s about free prior
and informed consent. And in some of my own
research interviewing people that have worked in
native cooperative conservation and climate change adaptation,
for a lot of native people, free part and informed
consent doesn’t mean you decide what to do and
before you pull the trigger, you inform native people. It actually means that
native people are there at the conception
of the project, meaning that you’ve already
violated from free prior and informed consent
if you say, oh, I want to study genetic modification. And then you talk
to tribes who could be affected by environmental
implications of that. So for a lot of
tribes, they would like to be there as
partners early on and work together
collaboratively toward figuring out
what to research in the first place on something
like rice or another thing that there might be
a shared value for. But the question is, there’s
not a lot of funding, and at least in my
experience, for research that meets that standard
of cooperation with tribes. And that is definitely
a matter of capitalism. So one of the
questions I would pose is whether the
capitalist system as is can actually sort
of face up to free prior and informed consent,
like native people demand it. And I think there’s
a lot of reasons to suggest that it’s not
and that you wouldn’t get meaningfully funded research
that would meet that standard. -So maybe just one other
thought about the cost and the economics. I think it’s messy. And what I think I observed when
I was in the Midwest happening from the late ’80s, as the
economic crisis in agriculture was peaking and maybe past
peak, farmers losing their farms due to economic meltdowns. Farmers were overextended. What I’ve observed
over the period is that some of the
technologies that have taken hold in
my career’s time are– it was interesting,
when I started that a big hot thing that
everybody talked about was the farms in the middle. What’s happening to the
farms in the middle? This is the middle-sized
American farm. Many of them were going under
financially in the early to mid-’80s. And that the research that
you do actually– we were all talking about this back in those
days– should be scale-neutral or should favor small
and farms in the middle. What I saw unfold over the
period– and this– yeah, I guess I’m sounding
kind of critical here on a number
of these questions. But what happened
was that there was a shift from the
per-acre profitability. Took me about five
years to really fully wrap my head around this. Farmers weren’t thinking
about per-acre profit. They were thinking
about farm-scale profit. So if you had a 250-acre farm,
and you could increase the farm to 750 acres, you could
sacrifice on per-acre profit and efficiency in order to
farm three times as much land. The farmstead profit increased. Genetically modified, at least
herbicide-resistant crops, have facilitated
increased farm size over the period of the
evolution of the technology. I don’t think anyone
would argue that. The time in the
field was reduced. The necessity to go back
to the fields was reduced. So labor was reduced,
and the farms got bigger. Was that the only thing that
was happening during that time? No. But was it an important driver? Yes. Companies were, while
I was in Nebraska, offering incredible price
breaks if you bought a big chunk of the
package, as opposed to a small chunk of the package. Discounts on the order of 15%
to 25% if you ordered 1,000 acres’ worth versus
100 acres’ worth. These were drivers that farmers
responded to, understandably, because they were
economically stretched. The farms got bigger. The challenge is then what– so
what are the economics of it? It depends, right? It depends on how
big the place is. It depends on a
number of factors. Obviously, it’s economically
attractive to farmers that are trying to manage
the crops in this method because I think the technology
has evolved with the increasing farm size. -We had saved the
question for the end about what extent
or in what ways can we help educate our
colleagues and peers and communities about
genetically modified organisms that will help extend the
discussion in fruitful ways? -I think one of the issues that
I see isn’t discussed enough, though it’s implicit in a lot
of the conversations about GMOs, is the relationship
between research on genetic modification
and the self-determination of communities like tribes,
indigenous peoples, and others. The principle of
self-determination is increasingly being
invoked for indigenous people and others. It’s been part of the
international moral system for a long, long time. But really, today, especially
with indigenous people, we’re really
unpacking practically, what does it look like to put
self-determination in practice. And all of these
environmental implications, environmental dimensions,
issues of GMO research need to be tied back
to how they ultimately relate to indigenous peoples’
exercise of the right to self-determination. -Dr. Thompson. -Yeah, I’m not sure I
have anything particularly deep or intelligent to say
in answer to this question. I mean, this is–
this forum that you’ve organized here is probably
one model for how to do that. And it’s great to see
so many people turn out. And it’s great to have
some good discussion about these questions, and
I think much beyond that, I’m going to pass
it on down to Bart. You’ve got your own mic. -I’ve got my own mic. -Don’t give him our microphone. -No. -Yes, I agree, Paul. But ideally, if you compare
the situation with the software development and IT
in the ’80s and ’90s, people were able to more
or less in– at home also learn about software and
write their own software. And a lot of hobby and
enthusiasts– enthusiastic people did this. And there was a– now it’s
open source and stuff came out of that. So and a lot of
innovation is taking place in your backyard in a garage. So that’s nice. But ideally, I would like
to get that all people would get a kind of greenhouse–
small greenhouse like this and some seeds and then
start keeping them alive and what– getting a feeling for
what it is to be a bit farmer but also some
experimenting with it. And I think that would
also bring city people back a bit to the countryside
because I think there is a gap. And of course, you
can use social media and also cameras
and stuff like that, kind of in the new
way to do that. But hands-on experience– I
think that’s very important. And we lost that. And so people all
be gardeners now. You are so a bit,
the gardener, I read. -Yeah. -So this is a kind of, yeah,
I would say opportunity to– yet an other way of
getting in touch with the GMs. And even in a while,
you can just buy them. -Yeah. I would echo what Paul said. I think this has been awesome. I’ve had a great day
talking with students and meeting the panel and
meeting the ethics group here, which has been a
real pleasure for me. So I thank you for that. I also would say that life
scientists should embrace opportunities to engage in
policy when they have them and maybe make those
opportunities if they don’t exist in your
labs or in your space. Some of the most fruitful,
stimulating times that I’ve had over the
last three or four years here have been some
of the road trips we took to DC, where I
watched my own graduate students presenting
to the EPA scientists at the national
headquarters or when we would be meeting with
USDA decision-makers on things like this 240 Dicamba
herbicide-resistant crop issue. It doesn’t always go the
way you want it to go. But the education
for me and also for my students and
post-docs and others that I’ve engaged–
undergraduates certainly could tag along and
get involved with that as well if we made it known,
more if we thought about that. But in any case, I
would say, a lot of this is science and the interface
between science and policy. And we should, while
we’re in school, get an opportunity
to explore the power that that nexus is
with regard to how we do things on the land. -Well, as you’re all aware,
we are out of time now. And I apologize for the shortage
of Q&A. Our panelists are happy to stick around
for a few minutes afterwards to speak with you. But for those of you
who have to leave, I’d like us all to help thank
our panelists for a great talk this evening. [APPLAUSE] -And thank you again
for sticking around. Feel free to come down and
talk with us a little bit more.

Comments 4

  • Did you miss our Ethics of GMO event?  The video is now on YouTube and iTunes U.

  • gmo sows omg off your face saying you r incapable of creating naturally without the aid of pseudo scientists wanna bes messing in your genetics. If you let them get away with this you may have your offspring coming into the world half octopus.

  • when Dr Gremmen said " genes don't exist", that was just unexpected and well defended.

  • who was the fourth guy on the panel?

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