There is an old expression: Build a Better Mousetrap. The reason is simple. The world changes. Science has brought changes. Jet planes, computers, and different foods.
Science also gives new ways to plant and produce food. Monsanto and Pharmacia & Upjohn created GE (Genetically Engineered) foods. But there are many arguments against GE food. So, how to answer the question: “Is Pharmacia morally justified in continuing to market genetically engineered organisms?”
My answer is no to morally justified. But, my answer is Yes to more research. More research is necessary. “There is increasing scientific concern that genetically engineered agricultural products may be harmful to humans, animals, or the environment” (p. 325). This does not mean GE foods will be dangerous one day. But now, there is doubt. In Europe, many countries ban GE foods: “In 1999, the European union suspended approval of new genetically engineered organisms until a new safety law for genetically engineered organisms is implemented in 2002” (325).
It is fair to ask Pharmacia one question: Are GE products 100% safe? If they answer, 99.9% or less, then I say NO. Do not market GE products until there is NO RISK. They cannot say that now. Scientists are worried. Other companies won’t use GE products: Gerber said NO. “In the UK, three fast-food giants- McDonald’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken- are eliminating GE soya and corn ingredients from their menus” (325).
This article gives other warnings: “Critics charged that it was possible that Monsanto’s ‘Roundup Ready’ plants might cross-pollinate with weeds and spread their immunity to….herbicides. The result would be a super-weed that would be immune to weed killer and might spread rapidly” (326). So, not only is there danger to humans, but to plants, too. Yes, danger. Because no one at Monsanto or Pharmacia can say GE products are 100% safe!
Yes, science must march on. Years ago, DDT was dangerous. It was banned. New products were better than DDT. But, they had a lot of research first. GE needs the same time. We cannot hurry GE products without total guarantees.
Here is another reason for my saying “morally NO”. “In May 2000 Cornell university researchers released a study indicating that the pollen from genetically engineered Bt corn was deadly to monarch butterflies” (327). Some people will say, So What? How important is a little butterfly. More important than feeding hungry people? My answer: If it kills butterflies, who is to say it won’t kill or hurt others. Animals and even humans.
Yes, companies are in business to make a profit. No problem. But, profit without 100% safety? No. I also see part of Question 2 about “justice” and “rights”. This is difficult to answer. Does Pharmacia have a right to research and create GE products? Yes, of course. But, justice means fairness. There can not be justice as long as there is doubt. No one can now say 100% that GE products are always safe. Safe today and safe tomorrow. Safe in fields. Safe on dinner table. Safe when eaten by cows. Safe when animals are slaughtered for human food.
So, what should be done? More research. More testing. More of all this BEFORE permitting general use. Even Monsanto shareholders are worried. And, Monsanto tried to stop their worries: “Monsanto insisted that its plants were perfectly safe and produce significant benefits both to the environment and people” (327). I worry about the word “significant”. If Monsanto had said “complete and total benefits without a single problem” I would say YES, market it without worries. “Significant” is “hedging”. In other words, the good outweighs the bad. Yes, Monsanto says “Genetically engineered products…have undergone rigorous testing to ensure that foods…are as safe and nutritious to eat as products from other new varieties…” (328). Ahhh! They didn’t say from all current products. They said from all other “new” products. Not the same thing. So, I say- more testing, more guarantees for TOTAL safety. If butterflies can be killed, what or who is next? The Monsanto bottom line should not just be profit, but total safety to plant, land, animals, and humans. That is why morally my answer is NO.
Case for Discussion: “Genetic Engineering of Monsanto/Pharmacia”
Ethics and the Environment (2003)