Chapter 33 : “Playing God”

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In this chapter the author expresses his doubt whether 21st-century opponents of genetically modified (GM) crops, or indeed GM organisms in general, or xenotransplantation, or therapeutic cloning, or stem cell research pay much attention to history. According to the author's suggestions there are instructive parallels between many past campaigns against biomedical innovations and those of today. Motifs common to both include allegations of scientists "interfering with nature" or "playing God"; claims that only commerce, not consumers, will benefit; the invention of bogus hazards; and wild exaggerations of potentially real risks, which are considered to be powerless to contain. In Europe, some activists have attacked field experiments specifically designed to evaluate the environmental impact of GM crops. All scientific advances bring genuine technical challenges in their wake, but the difficulties over immunosuppression that bedeviled organ grafting in the 1960s were largely conquered. Joseph Hotchkiss of Cornell University has highlighted the controversies that invariably surround novel technology with reference to the introduction of milk pasteurization a century ago. When compulsory pasteurization was introduced in New York City between 1899 and 1910, the infant mortality rate plummeted from 12 to 3.8 per 1,000. At least in Europe, claims about environmental and nutritional benefits were interpreted as defensive attempts at rationalization and were largely ignored. The author concludes by emphasizing on the fact that one can eventually reap those rewards, just as one can benefit today from milk pasteurization.

Citation: Dixon B. 2009. “Playing God”, p 151-155. In Animalcules. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817442.ch33
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1. Hotchkiss, J. H., 2001. Lambasting Louis: lessons from pasteurization, p . 51 68. In A. Eaglesham,, S. G. Pueppke,, and R. W. F. Hardy (ed.), Genetically Modified Food and the Consumer. National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, Ithaca, NY.
2. McCollum, E. 1918. The Newer Knowledge of Nutrition: the Use of Food for the Preservation of Vitality and Health. Macmillan, New York, NY.

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