This is a guest post by Michael Rury, a moderator at the “Ethics of GMOs: A Panel Discussion” Research Ethics Lecture Series Event.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have always been a source of debate. To many, the idea that humans possess such control over their food sources is a cause for concern. To others, GMOs are just another way to combat issues like climate change and world hunger.
Over the summer, I worked under Dr. Jonathan Beever of the Rock Ethics Institute to prepare for a panel discussion on GMOs. This entailed reading different scholarly articles on GMOs and their ethical and environmental ramifications, developing questions on these issues, planning on how to best order these questions for a productive dialogue, and discussing how best to foster audience interaction during the panel itself.
Along the way, I found my views changing completely. Before working with the Rock, I was a strong supporter of GMOs as a solution to world hunger and as a source of energy in the form of biofuels. Yet I was forced to consider issues I had never thought about before. One of these issues was the idea of sanctity: Is there an inherent merit to the natural code of an animal? Another important issue was weed resistance. As genetically modified organisms can be imbued with pesticide resistant properties, weeds originally killed by pesticides develop resistance. This increases pesticide use and forces scientists to develop ever more herbicidal agents. I was eager to see what Dr. Mortensen, Dr. Whyte, Dr. Gremmen and Dr. Thompson would have to say about these issues.
After the panel discussion, I felt no resolution. Some panelists had reservations about GMOs and some were avid proponents of their use. However, all panelists raised valid points, and I felt myself considering the use of GMOs from perspectives unfamiliar to me. Dr. Whyte brought up the perspective of Native Americans on GMOs. Dr. Mortensen clearly articulated the issues with herbicide resistant weeds, and also brought up unconsidered issues such as corporate “packaging” of herbicide and GM herbicide resistant seed. Dr. Gremmen brought up the idea that GMO opposition is in part manufactured by non-GMO seed distributors who stand to gain from having a distinct product. Dr. Thompson brought up the issue of GM animals, which was not touched on by the other panelists.
Ultimately, I found that there are no hard and fast answers on the issues created by GMOs. But there does seem to be much ignorance. Dr. Beever mentioned that a recent Jimmy Kimmel skit had people voicing their passionate opposition to GMOs. When asked what “GMO” stood for, they were at a loss. As many panelists said, one of the best ways to dispel ignorance and allow people to be informed about their views on GMOs is through public discussions such as ours. So while I left with no answers, I left with better questions and a better understanding of issues. I am sure that others had the same experience.