GMOs and GOD: Biotechnology and Religion

Corn92A recent article from religiondispatches.org.

By Brittany Shoot

Why is genetically modified food an issue for kosher Jews, halal Muslims, and vegetarian Hindus? How do religious beliefs intersect with ethical and moral views on biotechnology? A new collection of essays explores the links between religion, culture, and GMOs.

In their new book, Acceptable Genes: Religious Traditions and Genetically Modified Foods, Conrad G. Brunk and Harold Coward have compiled a unique set of religious, cultural, and indigenous perspectives on genetically modified foods. Many of us are aware of at least some of the ways biotechnology has invaded the supermarket. But dietary practice often intersects with religious faith, and despite the moral and religious convictions about modified foods, these perspectives have been marginalized in public debate. Oddly enough, religious and moral beliefs may carry more weight with lawmakers and industry regulators than consumer attitudes do. Combating the secrecy surrounding GMOs may only be possible with strong religious and moral arguments for equal tolerance and respect in play.

GMO Pros and Cons

GMOs are organisms that contain genetic material from other sources (like a tomato that has been enhanced by animal DNA in a lab) or organisms from which DNA has been removed. Altering an organism’s DNA can affect traits, measurable or observable quantities such as height, weight, color, or behavior; it is crucial to understand that this new genetic material will be inherited by the organism’s offspring. More broadly, GM foods also include any plant infused with genes from other species. The motivations for this type of scientific perversion are multifaceted and varied. In addition to developing “improved” insect-resistant crops, scientists are able to create advanced pharmaceuticals and treatments for conditions including diabetes, hemophilia, and hepatitis. Genetic disorders can be curbed, and perhaps in the future, eradicated.

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Read the entire article, originally titled “”GMO or No: Problematic Intersections of Religion, Biotechnology, and Food,” here.


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10 Responses to GMOs and GOD: Biotechnology and Religion

  1. I agree that mixing plants` and animals` (or even human!) genes may cause the risk of appearing some new dangerous deseases. And in this case information should be put on the product`s label.
    But in itself a plant with pigs genes is not non-vegetarian! It is just a plant with some special feature that other plants do not have. Are the milions of vegetarians aware that their favourite cheese was made with enzymes that were produced by bacterias with pigs` genes? I am and I believe I`m not eating pig this way!

    It doesn`t involve violance- animal does not have to be slaughtered for the genes. I think, nowadays most often they are produced through in vitro cultures.

    But I do not agree with people who fight against any GMO and create bad image of whole method. Why? Because without genetical modifications we would not have agriculture at all. Some tribal people living in pure enviroment may be able to maintain themselves by collecting wild plants. But to maintain milions of people there must be agriculture and agriculture means modification. Just to show a few examples: wild strawberry is 0,5- 1 cm long and produces for a very short time; wild oat drops its grains on the ground, wild carrot is so thin that one would need hundred of them to make just one salad, primitive potatoes are poisonous, wild apples are walnut size and very pungent…

    And in one sense people did not invent anything new. Polyploids occur on their own in nature and sometimes also two species of plants (or animals) reproduce succefully, creating something new (like triticale or mules).

    It is mentioned in Krsna book that among many things that Krishna and Balarama were learning at Sandipani Muni`s one was “creating new species”. I was always wondering whether it refers to genetics…

    • Syamasundara Dasa

      The only example of GMO I know of is that of corn enhanced with a fish gene that makes the corn more resistant to disease. I agree that it doesn’t really count as eating fish, but the issue about that gene in particular is that the pollen of that corn kills monarch butterflies. So now any non-violent or vegetarian person is not free to eat corn without being responsible for such repercussions.
      One thing is criss-crossing brassicas and create broccoli by pollination, another thing is to extract DNA from a fish and add it to the DNA of corn.

  2. I think if there is enough respect to nature, such things can be done and they were very much a part of Vedic culture. Yes in India, food surplus was a result of genetically modified food more resistant to diseases. Yes there are side effects, but now people can work on nature friendly research.

  3. The problem is, using technology to help humanity overcome the food crisis, or any other crisis for that matter, is far from being the prime concern of those who engage in its manipulation, and even less that of the shadowy entities that fund this sort of research. Monsanto isn’t globally viewed as a cohort of inhuman (if not evil) hypocrites and mercenaries for no good reason – there are very real causes which explain the extremely negative perception most people have of that organisation and others of its ilk.

    That is, of course, a huge debate in itself, but I believe the following interview of William Engdahl’s may convey in broad terms the arguments lying at the base of the well-founded reservations nearly everyone outside of the US holds on the GMO question:
    http://www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net/print/June08_Engdahl.pdf

    Engdahl, for those not familiar with him, is a household name among the hordes of individuals (me included) that refuse to accept at face value the expurgated version of events emanating from the widely distorted and grossly tweaked torrents of mass media, but who, rather, seek ‘alternative’ opinions and analyses that are more amenable to reconciliation with what actually transpires in everyday life. His riveting website can be visited at the url below:
    http://www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net/index.html

  4. As Brajasundari pointed out, humanity has been doing genetic modification since the dawn of agriculture. So the concept per se is not the problem; the problem comes when greedy people modify their seeds to be viable for only one season so that the farmers must buy them every year. And as is often the case with technological solutions to problems they create more problems than they solve.

    • Unfortunately, the quest to make a quick buck regardless of consequences is the predominant driver of this industry and all developments within it; aiding humankind resolve the food quandary is certainly not what the likes of Monsanto and Dupont have in mind. Even more deplorably, that is not about to change any time soon.

      • I was about to interview with Monsanto for a job position, and you put me in some ethical dilemma. But then, I see that any position I take in corporate America, be it in finance, insurance, law or medicine, will be stained with the dirt of bad motives. Only way to make clean money is to criticize corporate America and write best sellers on this subject so that one can make a living. It is the harsh reality.

        • Unfortunately it’s increasingly more difficult to find work that is ethically responsible these days, especially in corporate America. Unless we work for ourselves our most practical course of action in many cases will be to choose among the lesser of the evils. Given Monasanto’s track record and obvious m.o. I wouldn’t work for them for any amount of money.

          • You will work for Goldman Sachs or other Wall street firm rather than Monsanto. When your spiritual teacher requires financial assistance in a economic recession, how picky can you get in the source of your income? The kings are not supporting the brahamanas anymore.

        • I can certainly empathise with that. I head the Finance Department at the largest provider of public transport in my part of the world (not the First World), and each time a billow of black fume being spewed out of the exhaust pipe of a bus with a badly-tuned engine crosses my line of vision, a pungent feeling of guilt and remorse pervades me.

          So definitely, earning one’s daily bread in an ethical, moral and clean way is a luxury few can afford in these troubled times.

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