Or consider “golden rice,” genetically engineered to have an
increased content of beta carotene, which our bodies transform
into vitamin A. More than 100 million people around the world
suffer from lack of this vitamin. Every year, half a million
children become blind and another million die from vitamin A
deficiency. Golden rice may help prevent that.
Yet the Institute of Science in Society, a London-based environmentalist
group, demands the prohibition of golden rice, calling it a
“most heinous abomination.”
Or consider potatoes, bananas, and tomatoes genetically engineered
to contain vaccines against a variety of diseases, including
hepatitis B. These vaccines are easy to take, have no need for
refrigeration, and are as cheap as a penny a dose.
Yet a Greenpeace member declares: “We view genetically engineered
foods as having the potential for the largest environmental
disaster in human history.”
And the director of the Organic Consumers Union says that the
bio-engineered vaccines are “a very bad idea. You don’t want
biotech vaccines out in the environment . . . causing unknown
problems . . . with unknown consequences.”
But what about the known benefits that people get from immunity
to disease, or from vitamin-enhanced foods? Why should we assume
that the unknown is real and ignore what we do know? The fact
is that the opponents of genetic engineering are all too eager
to raise arbitrary fears that have no objective evidence behind
them, while evading clear-cut evidence of the value of genetically
engineered foods. Why? Because their standard is not man’s well-being
but an unaltered state of nature.
By inserting human genes into animal embryos, scientists have
enabled various farm animals to produce proteins for the treatment
of deadly conditions such as cystic fibrosis, stroke, damaged
tissues, and infection. Yet organizations such as the Resistance
Against Genetic Engineering campaign to ban these animals, which
they call “hybrid genetic monsters.”
Monsters? By what standard? Surely not by the standard of
Even more promising is the prospect of genetic improvements
in human beings themselves. One possibility being pursued is
germ-line research aimed at removing bad genes and eliminating
hereditary diseases before, or soon after conception.
Another is stem-cell research, which opens up the way to replace
damaged tissues and organs with newly grown ones. Both lines
of investigation may lead to an unprecedented improvement in
human health and longevity.
To date, more than 130 biotech medicines and vaccines have
been approved by the FDA, and approximately 350 additional products
are in late-stage development. In 2001 alone, the FDA approved
16 new biotech products, including breakthrough medications
for leukemia, congestive heart failure, HIV infection, pulmonary
arterial hypertension, and life-threatening sepsis.
Yet the hostility (from religionists as well as environmentalists)
toward this research is astonishingly strong.
The organization Human Genetics Alert describes it as “immoral,”
and the Sierra Club’s former national director condemns this
entire field of research, claiming that its implementation would
“destabilize human biological identity.” Imagine telling the
parents of a child who is dying of leukemia or diabetes that
the disease could have been avoided through genetic modification,
but that the law forbids any tampering with the child’s “biological
Opponents of biotechnology try to assure us that their purpose
is to protect human life. But their consistent stand against
a technology that saves millions of lives and that can potentially
eradicate disease from the face of the earth demonstrates the
opposite. It reveals that they have no concern for human life.
Environmentalists hold that man should not alter nature to
serve his ends. Nature, they believe, must be “protected” against
human intrusion, and we should learn to adapt ourselves to our
environment rather than adapt the environment to our needs.
From this philosophical perspective, genetic engineering is
inherently evil, since it rests on the premise that man is morally
entitled to reshape nature to serve his ends. This is why environmentalists
oppose it in any form—and at any cost.
The targets of the anti-biotech campaign grasp the nature of
their opposition and need to mount an unequivocal moral defense
of their life-saving technology.
David Holcberg, a former civil engineer, is a senior writer
for the Ayn Rand Institute in Marina del Rey, Calif. The Institute
promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged
and The Fountainhead. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.