GENTECH archive


Re: orange high

The question --
 <If an evil mind had the typical facilities for making
transgenic plants, what are, say, the three most evil things he can do?>
-- points us to the difficult aspect of the discussion (on GE-foods).
This has to do with the ethical effects of scientific discoveries. 

We can't turn back the clock to the time when genetic manipulation was
unknown, any more that we can go back to pre-nuclear days. Because of that
inability the question, if only be default, becomes one of precautions. 

With nuclear fission, even though the process is/was expensive to apply,
the first attempt (monopoly of information) was impossible to maintain,
and the second ( international regulation/policing) has not been
particularly successful just because anyone with "patience" and a
different set of priorities can manufacture nuclear explosives. This
leads to the concept of "nuclear terrorist" 

Closer to GE is the whole science of microbiology - the science is there,
the technology is much cheaper than that of nuclear explosives, and, again
we're forced into a default position of only being able to take

And the precautions seem to be limited to the identification of
bio-terrorists - the creation of profiles of stereotypical persons who
seek power by threatening the release of anthrax or of GM viruses in an
open arena.

So when we look at Genetically manipulated foods, there are clearly issues
of the same kind. The science is there, and the GM-foods will be created -
in a university lab, in a home basement, or in an underground facility. 

 We can try to slow down the emergence of "new" foods - it's relatively
easy, with mandatory labelling, to slow down public acceptance of
particular items, but there is also the chance that a new creation (a) is
totally benign and (b) desirable/useful etc. 
So we proceed to establish a precautionary principle, by which a new
creation is kept in a closed situation until it proved harmless (in some

But when we hear about the high-THC orange we're back to the place where
(I imagine) similar manipulations can be effected outside restrainable
laboratories (corporate, government, academic), where the new creation can
fill a need. The professor will eventually be called a terrorist, not only
because he took action in his own hands to oppose the authorized gospel,
but also because an attempt to eliminate his creation can interfere with
the orange-growing industry, and will fail because others will apply the
same techniques to strawberries, beans and who knows what else.

I think this means we have to think out the default position much more
explicitly. I like the concept of the precautionary principle, but that
still leaves open the question of its application. When an "unknown"
person creates a new form in an "unknown" place, how do you stop its
propagation if it has properties which are desirable to a population?

I, too, am not a philosopher - but I'd be surprised if such questions have
been answered.