I haven't had time to write lately...but couldn't let this one slip.
How can anyone question Rebecca Kneen's, or anyone's, holding
companies morally or ethically responsible for their commercial
choices that may be perfectly legal but whose impacts are
Bob MacGregor wrote of Alex's and Rebecca's comments:
> We have laws -- and a constitution -- that lay out the rights of
> citizens and the rules for allowable behaviour. Dumping
> pesticides in streams and slavery aren't legal; selling approved
> GMO seeds is. Rebecca's and your comments reflect a _belief_ that
> GMO's are bad and that selling them is, therefore, immoral. That
> viewpoint hasn't been proven to be true and has not been sanctified
> by laws and regulations yet; until such time as it is, condemning
> companies for serving their customers -- and trying to make money,
> too -- doesn't make sense to me.
Bob, sorry, but--apart from this sounding a bit like something
bylined "Winston Smith," this has no sense of history. Commerce and
morality have tangoed throughout time. The marketplace is no more
neutral than it is free. And we are in a period of history when the
fundamental precepts of a democratic nation--like who controls
information and how power flows as a result--are being revised
drastically. People are entitled to question and hold companies
responsible for their marketplace actions, and to question those
actions. Particularly when they remember history better than the
institutions who revise/devise history for their own ends.
Historically speaking, dumping pesticides was not illegal in streams
until very recently. Within my adulthood. Look at the URLs I sent you
on Minamata a few weeks ago (mercury dumping in a bay, not
pesticides in a stream, but the principle is similar). Look at the
photos of the lives affected by that dumping, and listen to the
stories of the people affected by it.
Historically speaking, owning slaves was not only not illegal, it
was the underpinning of a vast chunk of agriculture on this continent
until the Thirteenth Amendment (ratified December, 1865--within my
grandfather's lifetime). It took until this year for Black farmers
to be compensated for what came to be viewed as a pattern of
discriminatory action at the hands of the USDA (which the agency did
not admit to, but paid compensation for nevertheless).
And, legal or not, companies dump pesticides in streams and elsewhere
because it's more "economically efficient" in some cases to pay
fines. If caught. And African American farmers are still separate,
unequal, and often invisible.
So what does present legality have to do with a citizen challenge
(like Rebecca's) to a commercial entity, asking it to look beyond
profit-making as "service" to its customers regarding GMOs?
By Bob's reasoning, Philip Morris and RJR were doing us all a service
by making cigarettes available and aggressively marketing them.
People wanted them. They weren't illegal. They kept certain people
calm and thin (or whatever). And they Didn't Cause Any Health
Problems, according to the company's physicians.
As for the Minamata example, how long did it take for scientists to
"prove" health effects and for legality to stay the dumping in
Minamata Bay? The methyl mercury dumping started in the early 1930s,
and the outbreak of Minamata disease was not recognized until 1956;
not until July, 1959, could scientists at Kumamoto University could
prove that organic mercury caused Minamata disease. It took until
1968 for Japan's federal government to recognize the disease and the
cause. Nobody knows how many (tens of?) thousands of people were
affected in the meantime.
Memory of things like this--commerce getting ahead of an
understanding of risks--is one reason folks get angry. They may not
have Ph.D.s or other credentials considered prerequisite to open eyes
and rationality--but they see GMOs, and other technologies, being
unleashed with big profit motive but little ex ante assessment (and
big motives therefore to block post ante assessment once the product
lines are established or R&D costs must be recouped; look at rBGH).
Commercial organizations devise history with the help of their PR
and marketing departments (it's what I was trained to do). Some people
believe those versions of history. But those who lived through a
different version find it hard to forget. And aren't likely to be
taken in by the next Tsunami of Spin that comes their way. Unlike
those who have been happily insulated from such previous risks.
Finally, Bob, when you speak of companies "serving customers" it
reminds me of the old Twilight Zone episode where the tall, robed,
smiling, conciliatory, bulb-headed aliens arrive on earth bearing
copies of a book, /To Serve Mankind/.
At the end, when humans have poured into the spaceships to relocate
to the aliens' planet, earth translators are horrified to figure out
that it's a cookbook.
Those of you who'd enjoy an excellent assessment of plant
biotechnology and intellectual property, see:
Jack Kloppenburg, /First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant
Biotechnology, 1492-2000/, Cambridge UP, 1988. Publisher info at:
(Chocolate rations up 21%!!!)
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
Pressure? Pressure was when I was a shoeshine boy
trying to make it to America. --Sammy Sosa
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