Last month I wrote an article on Monsanto and pig patents. In short, I claimed the anti-genetic modification (GM) crowd report dishonestly on genetic engineering issues. As expected, this article generated some strong opinions in the comments, and in this post I reply to some of those comments. You can read the original comments in full at the link, although I have quoted and summarized the main points below.
Before I start, I should emphasize that I’m sympathetic to many of the concerns about GM, and the commenters seemed genuine and thoughtful in their concerns. But many of the arguments presented by anti-GM groups are either bogus, or are smokescreens to hide their real intention, which is anti corporation / anti-capitalism. I don’t know if that was the intention of the commenters, but some of those ideas seemed to be reflected in their comments. For example:
You say anti-corporation / anti-capitalism like it is a bad thing.
I am unsure how ones positive stance on the concept of genetically manipulating foods indicates a pro corporation/capitalism stance. You are conflating two very different issues, as are the birkenstick wearing, granola crunching treehuggers.
No I don’t conflate the two issues, the anti-GM crowd do. There is nothing wrong with making an anti-corporation / anti-capitalism point if you justify that position on its merits. The anti-GM crowd creates a fear of GM to dishonestly push their anti-corporation / anti-capitalism agenda.
A related complaint is that a corporation’s purpose is to make a profit, not benefit humanity, as if this was a valid objection to GM. So what? Just because a corporation develops GM crops to make profits doesn’t mean the GM crops will not benefit anyone else. This is just ad hominem – attacking the motives of the corporation rather than showing that any actual harm has been done, or no benefit provided.
Even where it is alleged Monsanto did something wrong, fallacious reasoning is still used:
I… would add that the even longer version of the Percy Schmeiser story includes Monsanto sending a private investigator onto Schmeiser's farm, without a search warrant, to gather samples of his crops for genetic testing.
This is the Tu Quoque (two wrongs make a right) fallacy. If Monsanto broke any laws investigating their claim they should be punished for it. But even if Monsanto did break any laws, this would not mean that Schmeiser somehow magically didn’t steal the seeds anymore.
…the ridiculous notion that because a seed was created with one technology, genetic engineering, it is fundamentally different from seed created by careful breeding.
This objection is pretty funny. The anti-GM crowd insist GM organisms are radically different from those created by selective breeding – they’re “Frankenfoods”, remember? So which is it – are they different or not?
Farmers should have the right to save and replant their seed from year to year, period. That's a political position, not an anti-science one.
They do have the right to save and replant seed – just not seed developed at substantial cost by someone else, and sold under a contract that forbids such saving of seeds. No one forces farmers to use Monsanto seed – they can still use the seed they used before Monsanto started selling Roundup-Ready. Farmers will only use Roundup-Ready if it is more profitable for them to do so. That should be obvious.
The most obvious alternative solution to patenting agricultural biotechnology, which has worked well for more than a century, is public research by public agricultural universities.
Who or what is preventing this from happening now? And, more importantly, would the anti-GM crowd support this altruistic version of GM? We know they wouldn’t – they still oppose Golden Rice (as you can also tell from the comments), although that technology is being given away.
And companies like Monsanto are attempting to disable traditional farming technologies such as saving seed; by gratuitously adding genes to make crops unable to produce fertile seed. Why? To further disempower farmers, and enable Monsanto to extract more wealth from them with monoplistic patents.
First, that’s bullshit. Terminator technology has never been used in any commercially available transgenic plant. This is just another example of the lies that continue to be spouted by the anti-GM crowd. (I accept the commenter may not have known this, but has been taken in by the lies that are put out by the anti-GM groups.)
Secondly, the terminator gene was developed to prevent the escape of genetically modified traits into wild species – a concern of the anti-GM crowd. The technology was developed as a solution to one of the anti-GM complaints, but now it is another reason against GM. Whatever Monsanto does must by definition be wrong.
I ended my piece with, “Of course, with the pig patent case, it will be a few years before it is determined if Monsanto have a legitimate claim to a patent or not.” As I also said in my original article, something qualifies for a patent if it is useful, novel and non-obvious. If Monsanto have developed something that fits those criteria, I believe it is not ridiculous that they should be allowed to protect their investment with a patent. And nothing is stopping those pig farmers from using the traditional methods they have always used, if they don’t want to pay Monsanto’s fees.