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GM FOODS

The debate about geneticaly modified (GM) foods is complex, but can be understood more clearly if we recognise there are three levels. Most of the public debate is at level 1, but level 3 is the deepest, and the Holy Spirit gives God's people a capacity to understand it better than the world can.

Level 1 - Direct Effects, Centring on Ourselves

This is the level where we discuss health problems on ourselves of eating GM foods, and whether it gives food producers more convenience. (It is claimed that GM foods will help feed the world, in that they can produce strains of crop that are resistant to pesticides etc.)

At this level the debate is even. According to Government research there is no evidence of any known health problems with GM foods - they are considered 'safe'. Some would take the argument further, asking what safety means and which branches of GM technology have been tested. But, at this level, at least some GM foods are likely to be OK.

Level 2 - Indirect Effects, On the Integrity of God's Creation

This is the level at which we discuss the indirect effects of GM foods, on the environment, on the developing world, etc. For example, might GM crops cross pollinate and spread artificial genes into the ecosystem which would have unforeseen consequences later on? Another indirect effect that is being discussed is that the GM companies will produce strains of crop that cannot set their own seeds. They will then sell these crops cheaply to the developing world, but the growers there will not be able to gather good seed for next year's crop. Instead, they will have to buy seed every year from the GM companies. This is a recipe for disaster, especially if the genes of infertility creep into the surrounding crops.

The Government has announced further research into the environmental effects of growing GM foods (we await the outcome) but not into other indirect effects.

Level 3 - Spiritual Orientation: 'Tectonic Plates'

Tectonic plates are those huge geological plates of rock deep underneath continents moving slowly around and clashing with each other. Earthquakes and volcanoes are the small visible signs of the tremendous forces deep underneath.

Just like tectonic plates is our spiritual orientation. The spiritual is not only the highest but also the deepest part of us, to do with our hearts. Seldom seen for itself, the heart is the very centre of the real 'me' that relates to God and to all else he has created. How the heart is orientated underlies attitudes, reasons, excuses, and my deepest assumptions about what is right and wrong. Differences at this level are more felt than seen, as heated clashes between people that are otherwise rational.

Idolatry

The human heart is the most powerful thing in all creation, which is why it is the heart that God judges: whether we are orientated towards God or towards an idol. An idol: we sacrifice other things to it, we appeal to it to justify what we do, what we do is dictated by its demands, and ultimately it delivers the very opposite of what it promises.

The pernicious thing is that most idolatries are corporate, and we Christians partake of them without noticing, even though we know and worship God. They are huge tectonic plates affecting all we do. The Dutch (Christian) economist, Bob Gouzewaard (who, incidentally was the research supervisor of Deborah Ajulu, Chairman of UDS), wrote a book Idols of Our Time. Today we have four main ideologies: of revolution, nation, material prosperity, and guaranteed security, and serving these are several idols, three of which are particularly salient to the public arena of policy and business:

At the moment I personally am totally against the development of GM foods because of this level. As far as I have been able to find out, the real, deep reason GM companies have gone down this road is precisely because of these three idols mentioned by Gouzewaard.

An activity might seem OK at levels 1 and 2, but when it is based on idolatry then it always ultimately proves harmful. It destroys God's creation and works against his purposes in all sorts of very indirect ways. The fact that GM foods is founded on not just one but three idolatries sounds urgent warning bells for us.

(For a more general look at idolatry, see idolatry.html. For another more recent, fundamental reason why I am against GM, see below.)

Jesus in the Temple

When Jesus violently threw the merchants out of the Temple it was not because selling doves was wrong or unsafe (level 1), nor even that it would decimate the dove population of Palestine (level 2). It was because he saw clearly the 'tectonic plates' of the people's idolatrous attitude to three deep things - to what was of overriding importance, to what they had a right to, and to unempowered people (cf. Ezek. 16:49). They had distorted God's requirements into human values, assuming that the highest requirement was for pure sacrifices; in fact it was for justice, mercy and humility (Micah 6:8) - and maybe I'm being too kind in not attributing to them strong commercial motivations! They assumed a right to convenience: it was simply more convenient for people to bring money and purchase clean sacrifices on the spot than to bring them from afar. But prices would rise, leaving the unempowered poor at a disadvantage. Moreover, their commerce occurred in the Court of the Gentiles, leaving little room for those unempowered people to reach God.

I'm afraid it's very similar with GM foods. Similar, not identical, just as tectonic forces do not issue in identical volcanoes everywhere. What is of overriding importance? Vitality of large commercial enterprises. (Not only is this explicitly stated as important by politicians and media, but we implicitly believe it as we enjoy the material benefits they bring, and utter such things as, "But the price of food would double if we don't XXX!") To what do we think we have a right? Cheap food for ourselves, convenience to food-growers. What attitude to the unempowered? "They'll have to buy our seeds every year."

So, even though many GM foods are likely to be safe to (Western) human health, and precautions may be taken to protect the environment for a time, I'm afraid I see them as 'volcanoes' showing the tectonic plates of our spiritual attitude. So, though genetic modification might not be sinful in itself, I see it as something to be resisted at a deep level.

As to the issue of violence toward GM crops ... well, I'll let you think about that.

Andrew Basden..


The above was written June 1999 for the Church Magazine of Main Street Chapel, UK. If you like it, or dislike it, please email me.

Below are two additional portions relevant to this debate.


Wrong Aspect

An additional fundamental reason I am against genetic modification of crops is because I believe the biotic aspect is fundamentally distinct from the physical aspect, but in GM biotic things are treated as though they are physical. This is the reason why genetic modification should not be confused with selective breeding, even though (it is argued) the outcome appears to be the same. Selective breeding is employing biotic measures to obtain biotically meaningful results.

Not everyone will have a problem here. But, to me, everything in God's creation should be given due respect for what they are, and should not be treated as less than they are (nor, indeed, more than they are). This, to me, is an implication of our mandate to look after the rest of Creation. So plants - biotic beings - should not be treated as mere physical beings. To treat something as less than it is in God's sight is part of our 'tectonic plates'.

Examples of Spiritual Orientation

Spiritual orientation is hard to detect, but can be distinguished by the justifications people use to defend their positions when under pressure, and the forms of wording in which those justifications are couched. The UK Government has consistently spoken of the "need" to "convince the public" that "GM foods are safe" - not the need to research whether they are safe, but the need to "convince the public" (words used by Minister Stephen Byers in Feb 1999).

UK Government Minister in Parliament on 15 June 1999 said that GM technology:

"... has producer benefits at this time, and could have consumer benefits in the long term."

This statement portrays a spiritual orientation, because it was used to justify continuing trials of GM crop growing.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into one short sentence that I heard spoken this morning (BBC Radio 4, 'Yesterday in Parliament'). The reason I think some of this interpretation is correct is that the statement is not out of kilter with other statements made by UK Government over the last few months.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 1999.

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Part of his www.abxn.org pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: Counter.

Created: 15 June 1999. Last updated: 16 June 1999, added evidence from UK gov't. 7 February 2001 email. 19 February 2001 link to idolatry. 8 February 2004 added about aspects; .nav. 9 February 2005 fixed 2 broken links to dooy. 21 December 2008 www.dooy.info. 1 January 2009 new .end, .nav. 21 April 2014 rid ../