Genetically Modified Food: Good Stewardship Or Reckless Manipulation?

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 10.32.31 AMAs Christians, we’re called to be good stewards of this earth and its resources. With this in mind, are genetically modified foods (GMOs, for genetically modified organisms) an insightful use of human ingenuity, or reckless manipulation of natural nutrition? The answer is likely nuanced. Corporate greed has utilized GMOs to double profits and monopolize certain crops, at the expense of giving GMOs their first PR black eye. However, new strains of corn have been generically engineered to contain vitamins that are lacking in Third World diets, such as Vitamin A, a deficiency of which causes blindness. Importantly, long term safety studies have not been performed. As discussed in this Times article, utilizing natural genes from other organisms is theoretically the best choice, but it’s unknown whether even these genes could cause harm in a different host. With both benefits and dangers hypothetical at this point, it’s important to regard GMO foods with both hopeful optimism and healthy skepticism.

This month the Center for Faith & Work is focusing on the New NYC Food Movement.  Join us at our City Rhythms event on January 23rd for more on this topic.  

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  • Josh

    Watched this video of a 14 year-old debate a TV Host on getting GMO labels on food (she is amazing) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIXER_yZUBg She brings up how the vitamin A addition makes no difference. Agree this is an important topic but am very skeptical about the “benefits” and results of the testing if the major corporations are the ones doing all the testing.

  • Dan

    I must say that I’m extremely disappointed with this post. While it is true that as Christians we are called to be good good stewards of the earth and its resources, we are also called to be much more than that. This post fails to mention the Christian ethics of GMOs or even mention how a Christian worldview could help to answer the question the author poses.

    Before one can have a discussion about GMOs, one must understand what GMOs are and how they differ from hybrids. The process of hybridization occurs continually in nature as open-pollinated plants pollinate each other. Over years and years, plants may change slightly, developing better disease resistance or larger fruits. GMOs, are another animal together. While hybrids simply harness a naturally occurring process, GMOs are created in a lab using techniques, such as gene splicing, that are foreign to the natural world. Genes from completely separate kingdoms are combined – something that almost never happens in nature.

    Never before has man had the ability to manipulate nature as scientists are now, and we simply don’t know how GMOs will behave in the human body or even in the environment long term. There is growing evidence that GMOs can cause harm, though. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine believes GMOs have the potential to cause immune dysfunction, allergies, infertility, inflammation, and a host of other health problems. The Autism Relief Foundation believes GMOs may be contributing to the increase in autism spectrum disorders, as well as cause further damage to children identified with such disorders.

    Chapter 1 of Genesis describes God creating seed and fruitbearing plants, shrubs, and trees, each one having the perfect seed within to continue reproducing itself indefinitely. He called them “kinds”, science calls them “species”. (Keep in mind that though the terms are analogous they are not synonymous For the purpose of this discussion, we may take the word “kind” as approximating to “species”, though it is actually broader than a single species.) He did the same with animals, including domestic livestock. Each kind, or species, duplicating itself down the generations, even through the intense corruption caused by The Fall. After The Fall of Man the LORD introduced the Law to remind us of our inherent sinfulness and need for the Saviour. Aspects of the Levitical Law governed the preservation of the kinds He had determined. So we see instructions such as Lev. 19:19. The clear point is to keep the kinds pure, distinct, and not to cross them. This is echoed in other scriptures such as Deut. 22:9.

    God wants the species (kinds) to be maintained, and trying to cross them defiles them. The principle of improvement of a “kind” by selective breeding (recall “hybrids” from above) of a particular species, such as barley or sheep, does not corrupt the species barrier, and so is biblically acceptable. Genetic modification of species directly contradicts God’s Word by taking genes from one kind and mingling them with another kind. It is sin. The progeny of such attempted crosses are usually self-aborted, born dead, or are sterile. This is part of God’s inbuilt protective mechanism to preserve the kinds. But men have devised ways to circumvent such divine blocks, and they are producing all sorts of inter-species crosses. They tout their new species as “improvements”, make grand claims, and ignore the fact that God condemns this behavior.

    As believers, we should be troubled by malnutrition and hunger both abroad and here in the US, but how we respond is critical. Malnutrition and hunger are both symptoms of poverty that can be traced back to the fall. They are rooted in sin and are the byproduct of broken relationships with God, self, others, and creation. For the economically poor, these broken relationships often include shame, a marred identity, social isolation, and a lack of a sense of vocation that contribute to a lack of income, and therefore hunger and malnutrition. For the economically rich, these broken relationships manifest themselves in pride, selfishness, workaholic tendencies, materialism, etc. that lead to all sorts of individual and social ills – such as GMOs. Unfortunately, when the economically rich interact with the economically poor, they tend to do so in such a way that exacerbates the shame that the economically poor feel, while also exacerbating the pride of the economically rich.

    While it is noble to desire to alleviate these symptoms, we must be diligent to not compound sin with a sinful response. Central to poverty alleviation is embracing our own mutual brokenness so that we can truly help others without hurting them and ourselves.