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GENETIC TRESPASSING AND ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS
By Dr. Mira Fong
 

                 Faces of hope, voices of space,
                 None for us to seek and prey
                 They are children from the sun
                 Innocent in their mortal wound
                 Singing earth songs

The Metamorphosis

Will fish mate with tomatoes or soybeans crossbreed with
petunias? Will pigs mate with humans or rabbits with mice? Of
course not, but some scientists are combining the genes of these
diverse creatures against the laws of natural selection. This
unsacred liaison invented by chemical corporate giants is called
genetic engineering. This high tech species metamorphosis makes
the Existential writer Franz Kafka, with his man Gregor who woke
up one morning and found that he had become a giant bug, a
prophet of our time.

Millions of cows imprisoned inside factory farms suddenly wake up
to find their udders engorged to an enormous size. Instead of
carrying twelve pounds of milk to feed their calves, the cows are
forced to pump out fifty to sixty pounds of milk just for human
consumption, not knowing they've been injected with a genetically
engineered growth hormone.

Genes are blue prints composed of thousands of genetic codes.
They carry information for the proteins that make up the
structure, function and outward traits that constitute the
individual organism. DNA ultimately dictates the distinctive
qualities of a species, from microorganism to insect, plant,
animal and human being. The genetic codes in DNA determine
physical forms, skin color, size of fruits, sensory structures of
animals, types of trees, specific times for flowers to blossom,
and billions of other features and functions.

Genetic engineering (or bioengineering) is a technique to splice,
delete, add, isolate, recombine or transfer genes from one
organism to another that may be totally unrelated. Alteration in
genes and chromosomes causes disruption and disturbance in the
biochemical structure of species and can result in species
mutation. It is a kind of artificially programmed
evolution (or devolution) changing the individual organism as its
starting point, in contrast to natural evolution in which changes
occur among diverse populations through natural selection.

Since the early nineteen fifties, biologists began to turn their
attention to the mysterious double helix called DNA. Within
twenty years scientists were already mixing DNA extracted from
different species. The quantum leap of this new technology
allowed the human creature to become the new creator of life on
earth, creating a variety of plants and animals. Now natural
evolution can be halted at our fingertips, forever altering the
meaning of life and forcing us to redefine religion, nature and
individuality.

Cellular dynamics in all living systems requires mutual
acknowledgement and interdependence, a constant cooperation
between the individual life and the entire biosphere to maintain
the stability and equilibrium suitable for species survival. The
holistic concept of the Gaia Hypothesis proposes a subtle mutual
participation between organic life (the moving part) and the
geological environment (the unmoving part) as an integral whole
in the evolutionary journey. Bioengineering disregards this
fundamental intricacy by disrupting species integrity, a gesture
in contempt of nature's wisdom. Science can alter other
creature's very genetic structure to suit our desires and the
market value. Do animals, plants, forests, mountains, and oceans
exist only for human benefit?

The Silenced Plea

Among the many victims of these artificial mutations, farm
animals suffer the most.  Their entire lives are locked inside
factory warehouses, manipulated by machines as if their sole
purpose to be born was to be harvested by man. They never have a
chance to see the sky or smell the earth. They can never
experience the pleasure or the freedom of living beings like our
pets, the wildlife, or ourselves. Farm animals are subjected to
life long abuse by the most atrocious, appalling manipulation
invented by agribusiness. Their utter misfortune is caused by
being labeled as food animals, but they are still sentient beings
not so different than we are.

The super pig, a product of genetic engineering, is a sick
animal, fattened artificially by human growth hormone. This super
pig must endure side effects including crippling arthritis and
distorted vision caused by the human growth genes that makes them
cross-eyed. Pigs are being modified with human genes so that the
organs of their offspring can be transplanted into humans. Soon,
in addition to factory pig farms, there will be pig organ farms.
A new creature called a GEEP, is part goat and part sheep. In
nature, the two species never mate, but our modern alchemists
have already perfected such a new species that never existed
before.

And then there is the case of the ordinary chicken. The modern
bird has been bred to grow at twice its normal rate. Its legs can
no longer carry its massive body weight, and the animal suffers
leg pain and deformities as well as an enormous strain on its
heart and lungs. Often these chickens experience heart failure
before the age of six weeks. Many other die due to rampant
infectious diseases caused by intensive breeding. A transgenic
chicken is engineered with a cow's growth hormone gene, which
imbalances its entire metabolism. One cannot imagine the
intensity of suffering caused by such mutations.

Someday, chickens might be engineered with genes from centipedes,
giving the birds more than two legs, so that we can have more
drum sticks for our dinner table. Or the chicken may be further
modified into a kind of tube, without head, wings or tail, but
with many legs, so it will produce more meat for us and be easier
to manage for commercial exploitation. No one will know how to
take care of this new breed of animal; in fact there will be no
need for veterinarians. The new food machine, no longer a real
creature by definition, can put an end of hundreds years of
debate on animal rights.

Are farm animals not part of the animal kingdom sanctified by
nature? Are they not "the breathing shapes, many voiced
landscape," a phrase borrowed from David Abram's book, The End Of
Nature. They also have their special journey on Earth and deserve
equal compassion and protection. The primary reason that they are
excluded from ethical considerations, and even from the nature
programs on public television, is because of their innocence and
gentleness that allows them to easily be raised and turned into
our food. We would be very outraged if wild animals like
elephants and dolphins were subjected to such conditions.

The Brave New World

Over the last three million years, human beings developed slowly
from a species that was mostly vegetarian like other primates,
living in harmony with other animals. Then we gradually developed
agriculture, languages and weapons. During the last two hundred
years since the industrial revolution our power has soared and
the development of our techno-culture has escalated at an
alarming rate. The human population will soon reach six billion
and will double its number again in the next thirty years. Daniel
Quinn describes the scenario of population explosion in his book
"The Story of B." He demonstrates that caged mice continue to
multiply as long as their food supply is unlimited. Quinn's
conclusion is based upon a fundamental law of ecology: An
increase in food availability for a species results in population
growth for that species. Genetic engineering aims at unnaturally
increased food production to fuel the already excessive human
population explosion that is burdening the planet and its
resources.

Presently we are breeding 1.28 billion cattle, which further
deplete the Earth's resources. In America, one hundred thousand
cows are slaughtered every day to satisfy we human carnivores.
Eventually, the planet will be crowded with human species along
with our billions of food animals. As for the rest of the
species, they will go extinct by loosing their natural habitat.
There is a strong connection between diet and behavior, with the
global emphasis on meat-eating reinforcing aggression in society.
As a result, we humans have become the deadliest predators on the
planet. The fast growing new industry of biotechnology will
eventually usher us into a brave new world beyond imagination.
Not even Plato, Darwin or contemporary evolutionists and
ethicists can provide meaning for such a strange world.

Biotech companies also profit from patenting new species,
genetically engineered bacteria, seeds, primates, pigs, cows,
chickens, dogs, rabbits, and mice and owning the new species
under patent rights. The first ever patented animal was the ONCO-
MOUSE in 1992, a mouse genetically engineered for cancer
research, and many other patented species are soon to follow.
Patenting lab created animals is not only religiously and
ethically offensive, it opens endless possibilities for humans to
exploit other living beings.
 

Confusion in the Air

Mono-agriculture, the production of a few selected crops for mass
production, itself is an artificial manipulation of nature. Along
with the heavy spray of pesticide and herbicide it is abusive to
the soil and threatens biodiversity. Planting bioengineered
herbicide resistant crops, which is one of the main projects of
genetic engineering will only allow farmers to spray higher level
of herbicides without damaging crops. A vicious cycle will be
created that will seriously contaminate our environment and
poison animals.

Another danger is that biotechnology promises us a new variety of
disease resistant crops. Transgenic crops contain genes from
viruses, bacteria, animals and other plants. For example,
transgenic tomatoes and strawberries contain the antifreeze gene
from Arctic fish so they are better frost resistant. Such
bizarre, surreal combinations not only can disrupt the host
genetic functions but also can cause confused, chaotic
biochemical mutations in the plants.
 
When transgenic crops cross pollinate with wild plants, it can
cause migration of their gene traits, including making them
resistant to antibiotics. In time this migration will lead to new
mutations and the fields will be eventually taken over by the
super grass created by our genetic indiscretion.
 

The production of new lab crops in developed countries poses a
threat to the livelihood of millions of farmers in undeveloped
countries. For example, the lab product of coca butter and a new
sugar substitute could put ten million farmers in poor countries
out of work. The new product will not help farmers in poor
countries who cannot afford such technology. The increased crops
mainly benefit the countries already living in abundance, and the
profit primarily goes to the transnational industries that are
forging new global commercial monopolies in the name of
scientific advancement.

Transgenic salmon contains genes from Arctic sea flounder, which
enables them to grow six times larger and faster. Yet eventually
these salmon can escape into the wild and cause unpredictable
ecological disruption. The DNA of a virus can pass through even
the gut of mice and find its way into every kind of cell,
creating genetic disturbances including cancer, a disease that
more than thirty years of medical research has been unable to
find the cure.

A gene can replicate indefinitely, spread and combine. We have no
means to stop this process but must let it pass on in its
invisible ways. When a massive load of virus genes combines with
wild relatives it can result in creating super viruses that can
lead to deadly diseases. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho from the Open University
biology department in the United Kingdom believes that "a vector
currently used in fish has a framework from marine leukaemic
virus, which causes leukaemia in mice, but can infect all
mammalian cells. Vectors used in genetic engineering can infect a
wide range of species. It's a bad science and a bad business
making dangerous alliance."

Pathogens, The Ultimate Predator

Along with ecological disasters, the year 1997 can be rightly
named a year of the holocaust of farm animals. Outbreaks of
infectious diseases among farm animals all over the world has
caused researchers to worry that we are due for another global
epidemic, primarily owing to the over use of antibiotics. Two
strains of E. coli as well as Staphylococcus bacteria now
contaminate meat, poultry and diary products. Genetic engineering
can greatly compound this problem. Laboratory contained
transgenic organisms when released into the environment are
capable of spreading across species barriers and creating new
diseases. A new danger is that they can easily develop multiple
antibiotic resistance. In recent years old diseases like cholera,
malaria and tuberculosis are coming back in new strains resistant
to treatment. At the same time new pathogens are arising. To cope
with this, medical laboratories will have to sacrifice billions
more animals for medical experimentation. What befalls other
creatures also befalls ourselves.
 
In the future, allergy specialists will have to study gene
behavior in order to treat new allergies, because genetic
engineering involves adding new proteins to artificially altered
food products. This can aggravate allergies since proteins cause
most allergies. We are becoming guinea pigs and without our
consent being herded into the giant laboratory of biotechnology.

Planetary Encroachment

Can we entrust our food supply and the future of the Earth to
those who have no respect or ethical consideration for the living
planet, who are motivated mainly by short term profits?
Bioengineering is promoted by a multibillion-dollar agribusiness,
which controls large segments of the world food supply. It is
spearheaded by scientists whose strange alchemical adventure
recognizes no species boundary; not even God can predict the
consequences. The potentials of bioengineering can become the
most dangerous device to destroy nature ever invented, worse in
the long run than nuclear weapons.
 
Why is our government so complacent about this important issue
and not keeping us properly informed? Because biotechnology
promises the security and abundance of our food supplies,
therefore more population growth. For the time being, we are
comforted by the deceptive appearance of affluence and continuous
economic growth. We can continue cluttering our environment,
encroaching into the wilderness, and trespassing territory that
naturally belongs to other creatures.

New technologies are erasing the most vital processes that human
beings need to form direct maternal bonding with nature. Human
beings, like other animals, need physical contact with nature, to
live and play with curiosity and humility, sharing nature's
offering and wisdom with other Earth residents. Modern men are
obsessed with power, possession, production, technological
efficiency and speed. Unlike ants and bees, which are at least
capable of living in altruistic cooperative societies, we
continue to operate out of our own self-interest only. As Daniel
Quinn wrote in his book, "Ishmael," instead of being a "leaver"
on earth, we have become the only "taker." The deterioration of
our sense of moral responsibility will only accelerate the
current ecological crisis.

All species and habitats are members of the bio-community. From
the daisies of the field to great whales in the ocean, from the
desert to the rainforest, each has its own intelligence,
personality, and consciousness, to evolve creatively with mutual
consent. Each has the right to be protected. Human beings as one
of these species are indeed out of control. This is evidenced by
the growing population explosion, the outbreak of new infectious
diseases, the accelerated crime rate, our exploitative economic
policies and the way each of us is destroying the planet as a
wasteful consumer. Millions of years of planetary evolutionary
efforts can become obsolete in a few decades. Sensitive species,
such as frogs in some areas in the United States, are already
displaying deformities owing to mutation caused by environmental
pollution. Though we have not figured out the mystery of the Big
Bang behind the existence of the universe, human history is
already entering into the second big bang, an explosion through
genetic engineering that promises to radically alter everything
that we know. The current measures we use to secure our own
species mean the end of nature. Without biodiversity the earth
cannot evolve and is doomed to decay.

Hope Against Hope
 
In this time of global crisis, each one of us needs to awaken a
new ethical vitality and put forth the energy and moral
responsibility that our planet desperately needs to resist the
forces of commercial exploitation. We need this for our own
sanity and meaningfulness, sacredness of the living Earth. The
survival of their future is our own survival. Without collective
effort, we will not be able to remedy the ill fate of the planet.
Instead of self-gratification, we all need to make some
sacrifices in order to give hope to other creatures. Bill
McKibben made a deeply moving and refreshing non-anthropocentric
statement in his book, The End Of Nature: "So I hope against
hope, Though not in our time, and not in the
time of our children, or their children, if we now, TODAY, limit
our numbers, our desires and our ambitions, perhaps nature could
someday resume its independent working."

Since there is no regulation in labeling genetically engineered
products, we have no way to avoid them. Hence we must demand that
our government enforce strict regulation in labeling all
transgenic products. We can boycott processed food made by
genetic engineering, and begin to educate our communities about
this important issue. We should support local farmers by
purchasing locally grown, organic produce, and switch to an ECO-
VEGETARIAN DIET. As long as we breathe fresh air, eat food, and
enjoy the beauty of nature, we owe it to mother Earth and her
billions of years of sustainability.

References:
1. The Unholy Alliance. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
2. Transgenic Transgression of Species Integrity and Species
Boundaries. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
3. Why You Should Be Concerned With Genetically Engineered Food.
Dr. Ron Epstein
4. Algeny. Jeremy Rifkin
5. Beyound Beef.  Jeremy Rifkin
6. The End Of Nature. Bill McKibben
7. The Population Explosion. Paul R. Ehrlich
8. The Unnatural Order. Tom Regan
9. How Are We To Live. Peter Singer
10. Earth and Other Ethics. Christopher D. Stone