published on June 13, 2014
Paul B. Thompson
The GMO Quandary and What It Means for Social Philosophy
Agricultural crops developed using the tools of genetic engineering (so-called “GMOs”) have become socially institutionalized in three ways that substantially compromise the inherent potential of plant transformation tools. The first is that when farming depends upon debt finance, farmers find themselves in a competitive situation such that efficiency-enhancing technology fuels a trend of bankruptcy and increasing scale of production. As efficiency increasing tools, GMOs are embedded in controversial processes of social change in rural economies. The United States, at least, has chosen not to undertake policy interventions to slow or reverse this trend. The second institutionalization of GMOs is found in the way that agricultural science has become divided between two camps, one focused on efficiency and total global production, the other focused on maintaining soil and water ecosystems in the face of both population growth and climate change. GMOs have been strongly supported by the first camp and regarded as irrelevant (at best) to the goals of the second. Finally, GMOs have become symbolic markers in the global debate over neoliberal institutions for trade and the protection of intellectual property. While there may be agronomic arguments for favoring GMO technology, the way that it has become situated in each of these social debates insures that it will be subject to strong opposition without regard to its biological risks and potential benefits.