Saturday, September 1, 2007

Precautionary Principle

Classically Liberal has the story of Greenpeace activists dumping eleven tons of GM (genetically modified) papaya in front of a government building in Thailand as a protest against something or other. The story is significant for two reasons.

First, when Greenpeace dumped the "potentially" dangerous fruit it was immediately grabbed up by hungry passersby. Frantic warning from the illegal dumpers were cheerfully ignored by delighted fruit-lovers. Said one, “I’m not scared of GM papayas. I’m scared I won’t have any to eat.” Classically Liberal suggests someone attempt to sue Greenpeace for attempting to poison people with deadly food, forcing them to admit that there was no risk involved.

The second interesting facet of this story is the blatant use of groundless concerns and fear by Greenpeace to oppose changes they find unpleasant. The local representative of Greenpeace claimed this incident proves “the failure of government agencies to educate people about the possible health risks of genetically-engineered crops.” Possible health risks indeed. In every study ever conducted, no evidence of health risks associated with GM foods has ever been shown. Ever. The evidence is not "spotty" or "inconclusive." Every study not later discredited shows no danger. But Greenpeace want them banned just in case. They say "Well, they might still be harmful in the long run."

While there is no evidence for harm from GM foods, there is quite a lot of evidence for benefit. Insect resistant crops require less pesticides for the same food yield. Vitamin-fortified grains save lives across the third world. Heartier strains require less watter for irrigation. These concrete advantages, however, do nothing to counterbalance the wholly imaginary risks in the minds of Greenpeace. If millions starve to prevent the possibility of hyperintelligent corn rising up against its God-playing creators, so be it.

The entire campaign against GM foods stems from a feeling that they are "unnatural." Of course, not all unnatural things are bad. Airplanes, for instance. In his natural state the only action of which man should be capable at 30,000 feet is to plummet like a very squishy rock. Today, however, a range of activities is open to the stratospherically inclined, including sleeping uncomfortably, listening to detailed instructions on using a seatbelt, eating 5 dollar bags of chips, imbibing very small bottles of liquor, and fantasizing about a near mythical age when all flight attendants were stewardesses. An argument could possibly be made from a natural law standing that things which are truly unnatural are morally wrong, but if Greenpeace did so, it would open up a whole can of worms about everything else clearly unnatural, such as homosexuality, or Japanese pickup trucks.

Unless Greenpeace wants to get into the business of pontificating on objective morality (not an unlikely possibility) they should quit objecting to GM foods.


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