I read this article (http://news.yahoo.com/panel-backs-sharing-studies-lab-made-bird-flu-211908237.html) today which I thought raised an interesting issue to discuss. According to the article, scientists in Wisconsin and the Netherlands successfully engineered a bird-flu virus. This lab-made virus might easily spread among humans. The debate began when the U.S. government requested the scientists not publish their work for fear of terrorists using it to create a pandemic. However, publishing the results of this research may help scientists around the world develop vaccines and keep up with the virus’ mutations. Eventually it was decided to partially publish the research, leaving out crucial information that could make it dangerous in the wrong hands.
The larger issue here is should the government be able to censor scientific publications? The free communication of research among science enables collaborative work and speeds scientific advancement, but some advances could be used as weapons. What do you think?
Scientific research continues to expand human knowledge on many subjects, and some argue that the rate at which science is unveiling new techniques may outpace the ability of businesses and individuals to property utilize the new technologies developed. In order to counter this, in many cases emerging techniques or ideas are ‘rushed’ to the foreground and produced on a massive quantity without adequate research into its environmental, social, or ethical impact.
This concern sparked controversy in the early 2000s in Europe against an American agricultural biotechnological corporation Monsanto. Monsanto has caught media attention for its unethical lobbying practices (link to amount spent on lobbying), aggressive retainer of lawyers, and conglomerate seeding practices.
Before becoming an agricultural company, Monsanto has its debut with testing nuclear weapons during the Manhattan project. In addition to their research in producing bioengineered seeds, Monsanto is also known for producing Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), being a widespread producer of PCBs (Coolants banned in 1979 for extreme toxicity and being damaging persistent organic pollutants), and for the production and use of the highly controversial (and later discovered, contaminated) Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War as an agent of herbicidal warfare.
To recap, the company whose crops will be eaten by millions of Americans every year has been involved in nearly every major environmental scandal not involving oil in the 20th century. If that wasn’t enough, there have been countless allegations of corruption, conspiracy, and nearly militant propagation of company territory.
Small farming operations are being edged out by Monsanto by legal means, as their patent over their genetically modified seeds allows them to sue any farmer found using their seeds. Unfortunately, because of the potency of the seeds, they are often being spread to contaminate other fields, whereupon the owner can be taken to court for infringing on Monsanto’s patent.
Recently, a USDA study was done on Roundup (the chemical glyphosate, the main herbicide produced by Monsanto and spread over thousands of acres of farmland. Although the USDA hasn’t updated its pesticide usage figures since 2007, estimates suggest almost double the glyphosate use in 2008 than in 2005. Although the chemical is described as being inert, when combined with other ‘inert’ substances in the ground and in preparation of the herbicide, severely toxic reactions can occur.
Further, the study suggested that the use of Roundup actually decreased soil health on a long-term basis. Even if the herbicide was safe in and of itself, ‘superweeds’ are a large concern. As herbicides become more and more powerful, the evolution of weeds is supercharged, producing more virulent varieties that can overcome the herbicide, devastating fields in the absence of herbicide—wreaking havoc on organic farms (more on that later).
The media needs to be more involved in publicizing the activities of this and other companies who constantly violate the rights of other business owners. Through contamination and litigation, Monsanto is attempting to monopolize the food supply of the United States. Are we to bear witness to the rebirth of America’s agriculture in the Industry’s vision?