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By Andrés Carrasco
For the first time in history, humans are technically enabled to intervene in the genome, altering, modifying, adding, or removing information from the genetic base of living organisms. We are facing a revolutionary leap of unpredictable consequences, not only in the biological diversity of the planet but in relation to the evolutionary balance.
The scientific discourse that legitimizes the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) belongs essentially to molecular biology, as it is the body of knowledge that allows the manipulation of the structure of genes in order to produce certain desired effects on phenotypes. But the theoretical framework of the research that produces GMOs is not in a position to say anything about the modalities of their use, nor about the "collateral effects" on health and the environment.
We are sparing ourselves the social reflection capable of determining if it is worth applying this technology, if it is desirable to alter the natural evolutionary times of the species, and if we are willing to violate the right of nature by introducing foreign bodies into it.
The Big story
After the Second World War there were enormous "advances" in chemistry, metallurgy and aviation, among others, and programs called Big Science, such as NASA or the Manhattan Project, were configured. These corporate megaprojects of the military-technological complex created the conditions for the discovery of the structure of DNA and the technical development of its manipulation. From there to the Human Genome program, almost without discontinuity.
The emphasis, competition and adrenaline that circulated in these global research plans allowed large corporations to play with technological control of chemical, molecular, atomic and spatial development, supported by campaigns that invoked noble principles of greater well-being, medical advances or cheaper and safer energy production. In the 1970s, the genetic manipulation of living organisms began, justified by the hunger of hundreds of millions of human beings in the world, in such a way that it assured the triumphant countries the right to exercise the power of technological dominance. Design power was transferred, from individuals and academia to the strategic plans of the combined state-corporation.
The journey from the atom to the gene was one of the founding pillars of what we now know as globalization. Never again did Big Science face projects that were not in line with corporate demands. Never again was science credible in its preaching of neutrality, custody of the truth and autonomy of its developments.
Science then increasingly oriented its gaze and exploration towards certain strategic knowledge, driven by the interests and competition of the States, and mediated by private corporate concentrates. Since then, it is increasingly difficult to find research developments that are not previously framed in technological megaprojects associated with this global market. The introduction of transgenic organisms, which can appear as a technique promoted by individual curiosity or as a step in the human adventure to dominate nature, is nothing but an instrument of territorial, political and cultural control that has neutralized critical thinking .
Will GMOs Feed the World?
The journal Nature addressed this question in the midst of the debate on the effects of contamination from pesticides. In his editorial on July 29, 2010, he described the failure of GMOs, alluding that they had not served to reduce hunger, which aroused a negative social perception about the privatization of territories, environmental pollution and the depletion of soils and resources. hydric. The cause of hunger, according to Nature, is not lack of food but poverty.
In today's world, it is estimated that there are 1,500 million hectares cultivated and 170 million are planted with transgenics, of which 152 million correspond to only five countries: the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India. To the demonstration of the environmental impact on the soil, flora and fauna of the toxins used in these territories, the undesired effects on the health of the population are added, and more recently, the limitations of biological safety implicit in the technological procedure itself ( due to the lie implicit in the concept of substantial equivalence, since the food equivalence between transgenic and non-transgenic has not been demonstrated).
The worsening of the situation in the producing countries seems a fact, with the arrival on the market of new seeds where genetic modifications that require other types of herbicides are "stacked" to compensate for the progressive impotence of GMOs (due to the resistance of weeds and decreased yield due to soil depletion). All of which happens in a complex scenario: Europe reluctantly looks at the acceptance of transgenics and proposes increasing the import of conventional soybeans in the face of increasing pressure from the consumer, who demands the informative labeling of products. At the same time, China also reacts, rejecting or restricting the use of pesticides, while developing voracious policies with purchases and land grabbing in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The course of the international market is therefore uncertain, and calls for an urgent and postponed discussion on autonomy in peripheral countries. This debate, however, does not replace the political action of resistance or the ethics of putting the body. The words of denunciation generate abstractions about the material forces that sustain the production of food (and the exploitation of other common goods), if they are not intertwined in the places of the concrete conflict where the seeds of politics are palpable. The global food business depletes non-renewable resources due to the need for a predatory model that needs control of the entire chain to exercise hegemony and ensure profitability. It is a system of looting and iniquity that does not contemplate the common good or the happiness of the people, that destroys life, nature and autonomy and that generates more hunger and exclusion.
This is just starting
Warned of the collateral consequences, biotechnology companies are committed to the future generation of technologies using genetic modifications that avoid transgenesis. However, these "novel" developments remain interventions in the genome that involve a high degree of uncertainty regarding their feasibility and unexpected effects. As with the insertion of genes from other species (transgenesis), or from the same species (cisgenesis), gene editing with new techniques using nucleases such as Talens or Zinc Finger transcription factors are true interventions in the material. genetic that do not respect their integrity or the time courses required in nature to generate and stabilize phenotypic variants. And beyond the fragment incorporated or edited by genetic manipulation, these procedures cannot ensure an overall improvement of the variant.
The distance between experimental practice and field trials, which according to the journal Nature is currently considerable, forces the corporations responsible for GMOs to avoid the discussion about whether genetic manipulation will provide ultimate safety in commercial crops. Therefore, it will never cease to be a human-made genetic experiment, such as cloning, with a degree of uncertainty directly proportional to the disruption of biological complexity and its behavior in the natural environment. None of these techniques contemplate the emergent properties of the changes that technology introduces in the structure of genetic material. Even less those that will provoke new techniques such as synthetic biology, which aims to transform plants into factories of natural or synthetic products (such as plastics).
Biological technoscience promotes the idea that the genome is a mechano of inert pieces, thus hiding what it really is: an integrated and complex system of regulations, with rules acquired over millions of years that tend to maintain a conservative balance. The lightness with which GMOs are conceived by market-impregnated experimental biology and biotechnology is frankly incomprehensible, given the data available on the limitation of our knowledge and on the complexity of the genome's functioning.
The experimental genetic modification of new varieties released in nature "compresses" the evolutionary time and "linearizes" the dynamics of the natural cycles of life. Therefore, within the framework of the natural ecosystems where they are inserted, GMOs are true foreign bodies and their effect on nature, irreversible and unpredictable.
These artificial variants generated by humans in the laboratory will have yet to show their true capacity, efficacy and persistence of the phenotypic traits induced during the genetic procedure, when subjected to the environment. But, above all, they must demonstrate without ambiguity that their presence is harmless for the rest of the species or the non-manipulated varieties of the crop to which it belongs. Something impossible to prove a priori, due to the times of the biotechnology industry and due to the temporal and spatial scale required. These new technologies can be successful in the immediate term, but they can also be a failure and a danger in the medium term. And in the defense of the "virtuosity" of a technological advance, there is nothing more perverse than resorting to the "authority" of science, discarding in advance the suspicion of harm, to the detriment of the notion of uncertainty present in the precautionary principle .
Barons of the post-human
The current productivism tempts the "barons" of technoscience to uncritically legitimize technologies, proclaiming that "environmentalism" is right-wing. Others more sincere, such as Federico Trucco (CEO of INDEAR? Bioceres) or Néstor Carrillo (Instituto Biología de Rosario, IBR? CONICET), argue that progressivism "attacks GMO technology out of ignorance. What they silence is that with the verification criteria available to us, what is acceptable in laboratories is often intolerable for the environment and human health .
Ontogeny (study of the development of organisms) and phylogeny (history of the evolutionary development of organisms and their continuities and discontinuities) show us the immense complexity of a life that can be compared to a hidden iceberg, to understand the importance of biological diversity threatened by GMOs. But the denial of uncertainty is inherent to a reductionist canon, entrenched in the race to supply goods for the global market, destined for infinite and unrestricted consumption. Subordinate to the market, science has fewer and fewer questions that aim to develop knowledge for human well-being and happiness, while attending to superfluous or luxurious needs that many will never have access to. Contemporary science shatters the symbolic value of living with nature, providing more manipulable imitations, in its quest to control evolution without knowing almost anything about its evolution. The speed of technological change proposals indefinitely expand the frontier of the possible and at the same time reduce the field of the thinkable, thus introducing an enormous space devoid of meaning.
"Epistemic disobedience" is the decolonial war strategy that humanity faces. Especially in those spaces of the planet where darkness is synonymous with dependency. Countries subject to this logic have to review their modes of knowledge production, urgently reviewing the notions of development and progress. The central countries will have to examine their colonizing consciousness, because the ongoing resistance processes will tend to deepen, and the insistence on the globalization bet begins to be suicidal.
Crisis Magazine http://www.revistacrisis.com.ar/