Environmentalism for the 21st Century

To simplify matters, the debate on biotechnology is about whether this science is, in the balance, positive or negative for human health and the environment.

It is unfortunate that the term “biotechnology” has come to be synonymous with “genetic engineering” or “GMO’s”. Biotechnology is a very broad term used to describe all aspects of new technologies applied to living things. This includes advances in human and veterinary medicine, pest control, crop production and nutrition. Unlike some other aspects of biotechnology, genetic modification is a form of biological rather than chemical intervention. In other words, genetic engineering is an organic science.

It amazes me that in a few short years the molecular biologists that were hailed as crusaders in a new genetic revolution are now reviled and characterised as mad scientists in the grip of greedy corporations bent on destroying the environment. At the WTO conference in Seattle in 1999 we were warned that “entire countries will be held in biological bondage. Genetic engineering will become a biological weapon used for agro-terrorism.” The public is given a fearful impression with images of Frankenstein foods, killer tomatoes, and terminator seeds. Is it any co-incidence that all three of these images are taken directly from scary Hollywood movies? I believe that the campaign of fear now waged against genetic modification is based largely on fantasy and a complete lack of respect for science and logic. In the balance it is clear that the real benefits of genetic modification far outweigh the hypothetical and often contrived risks claimed by its detractors.

Certainly any science or technology can be used for destructive purposes. We already have the ability to annihilate ourselves with physics, in the form of nuclear weapons, with chemistry, in the form of chemical weapons, and with biology, in the form of deadly microbes. I suppose it might be possible to increase the effectiveness of biological weapons with genetic modification, but as far as I am aware there is no need to do so. The ones we have already are more than capable of wiping us out.

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