Saturday, April 30, 2011

Further notes on the ELCA Social Statement on Genetics

April 27, 2011
PC, Assembly Delegates and others,

Here are a few comments regarding the ELCA Social Statement on Genetics.  This is nothing like the original document that I reviewed in 2009. 

The Committee had a difficult assignment......  to deal with a topic full of controversies and not take real specific stands.   So they choose to develop a framework for decision making.   I like the document as a framework,  but it is just a starting point for issue resolution. 

I am disappointed in that I view Social Statements as taking a position on an issue.  So, my vote is to accept it.   If it gets modified to take positions on issues, then I would want to see it again.

Hope this is of some value.

If anyone wants to talk bout this, I am willing.


Calvin Bey, scientist, and member of Good Shepherd Lutheran, Fayetteville, AR


ELCA Social Statement on Genetics
Comments by Calvin Bey

Like many of you I suppose, I have reviewed a lot of documents over the years.   Documents prepared by a committee, like this one, are difficult to assess.   First let me say, I reviewed the original document and wrote to the Committee on Oct 30, 2009.

I was quite critical of the original.  In short, they failed to incorporate the principle of the interrelatedness of all the aspects of Nature into the document. They wrote as if genetics was independent of the environment.   And they showed a huge bias when they spoke about “promises” of GMOs which were very unrealistic.   Many of those issues in the first draft have been addressed.

Now there is a certain amount of vanilla flavoring and blandness in the document that sounds real nice, but it does not deal with the issues that are forefront in the news today.  So I like a lot of things in the document, but it does almost nothing for resolution of any current issues.   Even so, if were a delegate, I would vote for it.

Having said that, here are few points/opinions.

One typo, I think.  Line 782, first word should be “decreasing” not ”increasing.”

I really like their repeated reference to having respect for “the community of life.”  It is nothing new, but we need to hear that over and over.  Many operational activities in the world are quite counter to the concept that says all life is to be respected.   The whole realm of polluting by incorporating foreign material into plants and animals and spraying toxins over the earth are primary examples. 

The “community of life” concept ties neatly to their emphasis on support of sustainable practices.  I like that idea.  But, in practice it is a far more difficult thing to discern.   As we live in the Natural world, we are constantly faced with biological alternatives.  That is okay, it happens in Nature all the time.   The crux is always about where to draw the line to favor one thing over another. 

I like that they are refer to a lot of the ecological concepts, i.e. biodiversity, endangered species, etc.  This ties back to the “community of life,” and can make us humble when we begin to understand the wonder of creation, and continuing creation.

I am also glad they referred to the principle of wisdom, the “precautionary principle.”   I think of it in terms of the Hippocratic oath, “first, do no harm.”   They suggest the responsibility is with the “promoter” of the novel action.   A nice statement indeed, but what happens if the promoters don’t care, i.e. are driven only by money.   It could happen.  It does, all the time.  

I like the statement (994-995) that says we should do impact assessments before proceeding with genetic testing ( and I assume full-scale production).  But what happens when it is ignored, by the companies who are promoting the novel product, and especially by the Regulatory agencies?  

More than anything, I like the fact that they spoke out for the underprivileged, those without power to do anything.   Social injustice runs rampant in the field of GMO promotion today.    What goes on with big companies imposing on the poor from South America to India is simply evil. 

I also like the idea that there should be all disciplines and kinds of people involved in the development of major policies.  That too is a 40-year old idea, that first surfaced in the genetics field in the 60s and 70s.  Too bad, but no group insisted on having diverse groups involved in making national policy.  Big business took control and promoted what was to their advantage.  Today the big business and Government culture is pretty much the same.  If the voices of the people are to be heard, it will take grassroots movements. 

So there are many great statements and concepts in the document, and I expect they will all be adopted.  What next?   Would the world look different if we were to apply them all?  I think so.  We would surely be forced to slow down, study, assess,  consider unintended consequences, be less concerned about money, be concerned about health of the soil and every living organism, and be more concerned about the less fortunate and marginalized people of the world. 

Again, I would endorse the document, with the caveat that this is just a base or framework for making changes and decisions in the many aspects of modern life.  As difficult as I expect it was to get consensus on this document, the next steps will be the real challenges.  It is something we should not ignore. 

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