Ethical Implications of Genetically Modified Food

Article excerpt

IN THE BOOK of Genesis God instructs humankind to, "fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over ... every living thing that moves on the earth." From earliest times we have done just that. We have adapted the natural world to serve our own ends, transforming natural processes to provide ourselves with whatever we need. However, most theologians have recently insisted that the notion of dominion does not give us freedom to do anything we choose with creation, but rather offers the task and responsibility of stewardship.

For many, the new biotechnologies reflect the vanity of our technological culture rather than responsible stewardship, and the results of such vanity, they say, will be dire, especially for those most vulnerable. One particular area of concern is in the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food production. The best known example was actually a commercial failure, the so called Flavr SavrTM Tomato. What are the risks and benefits of this sort of genetic manipulation?

First, let me say that human beings have been genetically modifying animals and plants ever since they began to practice agriculture. Few of our farm varieties are like their wild ancestors. Until recently this modification took place through selective breeding. Now it is possible to modify genes and introduce these modified genes, or genes from another organism, into the plant or animal we are trying to "improve." In the case of the Flavr SavrTM the concern was to produce tomatoes that could be ripened on the vine. Normally such tomatoes have too short a shelf life to be saleable after transport over long distances. As a result tomatoes are usually picked when green and treated with chemicals to stimulate ripening when they are ready for sale.

The Flavr SavrTMwas a relatively innocuous genetic modification, but even that raises some issues. …