World hunger not on GM agenda

June 11, 1999

The claim is that GM technology can increase the total amount of food available. Millions of people are starving, but their starvation is caused not by shortage of food but by poor distribution of it. In some places there is more than enough, in others there is severe shortage.

So does the answer lie in better distribution techniques? No: colossal quantities of food are transported round the world, but most of it goes from the places where the people do not have enough to the places that have more than enough. A big increase in the total amount of food would not relieve world starvation without a change of political ethics, such that the needs of the powerless take priority over luxuries for the powerful.

GM food is just one more example of the fallacy that technology can solve moral problems. The powerless starve not because of technology shortage, but because the powerful take their food from them.

Higher education has been sucked into a business-led programme of knowledge-for-control, offering new technologies to solve every problem; and because they do not, it can always promise us more technology again. Our society is now so stuffed with new artefacts and processes that if technology could solve our problems we would all by now be idyllically happy. It does not.

The reason is that technology is no substitute for morality. Increased production is no substitute for cancelling the debts of the poor, abandoning the attempt to make profits out of them, and leaving them to live in peace and grow their own food. If the world is to become a better and fairer place, GM food is irrelevant. The focus of our society, and in particular higher education, needs to shift towards deeper appreciation of politics, ethics, and the philosophical understandings of reality that underpin our agendas.

Jonathan Clatworthy

Anglican chaplain, University of Liverpool and part-time lecturer in Christian ethics, University of Manchester

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