Thursday, April 15, 2010

Problems I Have with Penn & Teller´s BULLSHIT g.e. episode

There are a lot of problems with how the issue of Genetically Engineered crops is portrayed on corporate television. One example as good as another is an episode of Penn & Teller's BULLSHIT. Here are eight problems or misconceptions shown in the episode.

i) What level is the world food supply at? There is an abundance of food but it is not evenly distributed. As Dr. Christos Vasilikiotis articulates:
Our current world food production is more than sufficient to provide an adequate diet to all humans, yet more than 840 million people are suffering from hunger. Hunger is a problem of poverty, distribution, and access to food. The question then, is not "how to feed the world", but rather, how can we develop sustainable farming methods that have the potential to help the world feed and sustain itself. Organic management practices promote soil health, water conservation and can reverse environmental degradation. The emphasis on small-scale family farms has the potential to revitalize rural areas and their economies. Counter to the widely held belief that industrial agriculture is more efficient and productive, small farms produce far more per acre than large farms. Industrial agriculture relies heavily on monocultures, the planting of a single crop throughout the farm, because they simplify management and allow the use of heavy machinery. Larger farms in the third world also tend to grow export luxury crops instead of providing staple foods to their growing population. Small farmers, especially in the Third World have integrated farming systems where they plant a variety of crops maximizing the use of their land.
Therefore, it appears the episode begins the issue on a false premise that is common.

ii) 1min 11sec: Suicide seeds can contaminate neighbouring crops and takeover causing harm to farmers. See Percy Schmeiser's experiences with such 'suicide' or 'terminator' seeds.

"Terminator or Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURTs) is a technology of genetic engineering designed by the multinational seed industry to render seeds sterile after first harvest, thus preventing farmers from saving and re-using seed, forcing them to return to corporations to buy seed every season. This predatory strategy has been widely condemned, in Canada and across the world, because it threatens farmer livelihoods, food security, and agricultural biodiversity. And yet, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to prepare for the potential introduction of Terminator seeds and there is no policy in Canada to address the devastating impacts Terminator would have on farmers’ livelihoods."

Short and long term health effects of g.e. food cannot be determined since it has not been a significant part of the food supply for very long.

iii) Monsanto style fertilizers and industrial farming techniques tend towards over-farming the soil. This of course reduces arable land to grow food on thereby causing a reduction of food production.
Were Norman Borlaug's techniques in Mexico, India, and China of the sustainable/organic variety or of the industrial variety leading to genetically engineered seeds that would not be invented years after Borlaug's work that won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970? It is misleading to say genetically engineered food saved the billions of lives the episode states if they were not yet invented during the period in which said lives were saved.
iv) "If we used only organic methods on existing farmlands we couldn't feed anymore than two thirds of the world's population." -5min 12sec

A crude hypothetical is only that. Ideas to compliment an organically-grown food supply are many. For instance the amount of meat being consumed by westerners is unpredented in history--more than in the 1950's. Raising livestock is the least efficient use of farmland.
v) These genetically engineered crops are actually the most highly tested crops that we've ever had." 7min 25sec

This is because little testing has ever been done on existing organic crops since they have progressively proven safe historically as selective breeding and grafting technique were improved. Genetically engineered foods are new and totally unprecedented in the food supply so it was appropriate to start testing such foods. Also, the F.D.A, U.S.D.A., and E.P.A. are modern inventions with a chronologically limited amount of study material to draw on. It makes sense that the most testing is done on genetically engineered food. Stating this alone is misleading however.

vi) How can any 'progressive' activists or leftists (scientific materialist basis) reject scientific research? Certain technologies like thermonuclear warheads or suicide seeds, or any technologies that are aimed at concentrating control and profits of a material necessity of life should be denounced in favour of applications that have the opposite outcome or tendencies.

vii) 7min 55sec: the 2002 Environmental Summit in Africa in which Zambia was convinced by groups "like Greenpeace" that the foods were poisonous. The European Union decided previously that the g.e. food being donated was not yet safely tested. The President of Zambia stated of his country's judgment:

"We have made a decision. We have rejected GM-food. It is not a slight on donors. There is no conclusive evidence that it is safe. We wish not to use our people as guinea pigs in this experiment. Our decision is final," he told reporters.

"We have enough food to take the country to December," he said, adding that he believed Zambia could by that time get GM-free food donations and could also bring in GM-free commercial imports.¨

viii) 9min 01sec: Selective breeding and grafting are not processes equivalent or the same as the genetic engineering in question. Changes are not the issue. Even the most spaced-out hippie can acknowledge that selective breeding and grafting created changes in the strains of cannabis, improving the potency and focusing certain types of T.H.C. (there are nine apparently). So such 'changes' should not be called into question.

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