Dr. Seethaler kept on reiterating one theme when she revealed her strategy in evaluating the risks and benefits of scientific breakthroughs. She reminded her readers to keep on elucidating tradeoffs. It is her way of saying that there is more than meets the eye and nothing is what it seems.
A logical thinker must carefully analyze the facts and consider that there are always two sides to the issue. More importantly different stakeholders have a different take on the benefits and risks of a certain product or technology. Thus, Dr. Seethaler developed a framework which focuses on tradeoffs as means to determine risks and benefits. Her framework can be used to analyze if it is worth the risk to use bioengineered foods.
There are various stakeholders when it comes to bioengineered foods. The first major stakeholder is the company that invested in the research and development of a bioengineered food. The rest of the stakeholders are listed as follows: USDA; WTO; EPA; FDA; and the media.
With regards to the first major stakeholder companies like Monsanto spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development of bioengineered foods and has to make a profit out of the said investment. It is therefore imperative for biotech companies to demonstrate that bioengineered foods are healthier than ordinary ones. But they often fail to show the tradeoffs such as the extensive use of fertilzers and othe chemicals to produce such foods.
The USDA on the other hand finds the development of a bioengineered foods as a breakthrough in science and would support its development and mass production. However, the USDA may not highlight the fact that there is need for more extensive tests because no one is certain of the long term effects of this new type of food products. The WTO on the other hand is concerned with efficiency and therefore would love nothing else than to diffuse tension between trade partners. The tradeoff is the tendency to gloss over problems.
The EPA on the other hand is focused on saving the planet. It is therefore important for them to point out how unnatural means of producing food is not sustainable and could negatively affect the ecosystem of the planet. But the EPA may not mention the benefit of a vitamin-fortified food.
The same thing can be said of the FDA. This government agency is in-charge of determining if a certain food product is safe for consumption. The FDA may downplay the tradeoff which is a much improved food product that can help enhance the quality of life of many people.
Finally, the media is also a stakeholder in this issue. The media has the responsbility to inform the public on new developments when it comes to food. The media can be seen as some sort of a watchdog. But media outlets such as news bureaus are dependent on ratings, thus there is a tendency to sensationalize the news to edge other TV networks in the ratings game.
With regards to the five factors it is easy to understand that environment must be an important consideration. But someone has to find out the exact process that can link environmental degradation and bioengineered foods. It is also possible that the environmental impact is negligible or manageable and therefore the benefits easily outweigh the risks.
Human health is also a primary concern. It is easy for the media to create fear by releasing news information that is not based on facts but on assumptions. There is no hard evidence that the consumption of bioengineered foods can cause acute health problems. On the other hand, if it can be proven that there is indeed a tremendous health benefit in consuming bioengineered foods then the benefits outweigh the risks.
When it comes to economics it is difficult to find fault with bioengineered foods. There is evidence to show that this type of products can be enhanced to make it resistant to pests. In other words a higher yield for farmers.
Nevertheles, there are those who will argue that in the long run the cost will be catastrophic in terms of the destruction of the environment. But in the present there the main problem to tackle is hunger and if bioengineered food can help curb hunger in many parts of the world then the other issues becomes secondary becaue human life takes priority.
Ethics is a difficult issue because there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what is allowed when it comes to tampering with the natural design of food. But it can be argued that human life is more important than anything. If bioengineered food can help save lives and increase the quality of life then whatever ethical issues that is related to biotechnology.
Long term effects of bioengineered food is difficult to determine because the breakthroughs in this field only occurred recently. There is not enough data to know the impact in the next 100 years or so. But this does not mean that nothing can be done to mitigate risks. It is possible to make adjustments as problems crop up and make predictions based on what is known today. In the process problems can be anticipated and solutions can be applied early on.
In Europe the main concern is in the long-term effects of bio-engineered food. They are afraid of the unknown. This fear is of course related to the perceived negative impact to human health. The rest of the European consumers are not into bioengineered foods because they believe that farmers who produce this type of food utilized unethical practices.
With regards to Zambia the reason is less about health and the environment and more on the economic interests. Zambian farmers discovered early on that they can sell unmodified food to Europe. Thus, it is important for them that people continue to oppose the consumption of bioengineered food. The moment that their main market switches to bioengineered food, their livelihood can be threatened.
There is nothing wrong with bioengineered food. This is especially true if one will talk about vitamin-fortified food. The benefits can easily outweigh the risks considering that fact that there are many bioengineered foods that has been proven safe for consumption. It is easy to embrace bioengineered foods when critics consider world hunger and vitaimin deficiency in many parts of the world.