GMO Social Impact Analysis Paper

Engr 195b

Question Description

Genetically modified crops are seen as the solution to problem of world hunger. However, genetically modified seeds are mostly grown in areas with a history of successful farming. The end result is that the abundance of genetically modified seed is displacing traditional, small, rural farmers, as multinational for-profit corporations (mostly based in the US), who control the production, development, and distribution of these crops, saturate the market with drought and pest resistant seed. In the process, corporations, and governments ignore the social and economic impact that the wide and cheap availability of genetically modified crops might have on the local population.

For this assignment, consider the ways in which small, rural, farmers in Mexico and India might be affected by the introduction of genetically modified crops. Oftentimes, the introduction of such technologies require small rural farmers to adapt or change their lifestyles, that is, the way they work, where they work, and how they live. Is there anything morally problematic or questionable about this? If there is, what is it? If there is not, please explain.

In your write up, be sure to (a) describe the relevant factual details of the situation you will be discussing, (b) take a position on the morality of introducing GMOs (genetically modified organisms, e.g., seeds) into that environment, (c) defend your position appealing to the ethical benchmarks discussed in class, and (d) describe the similarities and differences in impact you notice in the introduction of GMOs Mexico and India.

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ENGR 195B Global and Social Issues in Engineering Kyle Yrigoyen Philosophy Department Overview. ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● What makes something technological? The Theory of Technological Politics. Five Ways Cell Phones are Changing Agriculture in Africa. GMOs as world-changers. Regulating GMOs: Different Strategies. Impacts of Bt cotton in India. Impacts of GM corn in Mexico. Impacts of GM crops. Langdon Winner’s “Technologies as Forms of Life”. Problems with Philosophy of Technology. Technological Somnambulism. Beyond Impacts and Side Effects. Return to Making. What makes something technological? Natural Systems Artifactual Systems Human Systems Winner on “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” “No idea is more provocative in controversies about technology and society than the notion that technical things have political qualities.” (19) Winner provides three competing views about the relationship between values and technology: 1. 2. 3. Social Determination of Technology Naive Technological Determinism Theory of Technological Politics Winner on “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” 1. Social Determination of Technology: “What matters is not technology itself, but the social or economic system in which it is embedded.” (20) 2. Naive Technological Determinism: “Technology develops as the sole result of an internal dynamic and then, unmediated by any other influence, molds society to fit its patterns.” (20) 3. Theory of Technological Politics: “...The characteristics of technical objects and the meaning of those characteristics….identifies certain technologies as political phenomena in their own right.” (20) Winner on “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Winner suggests two ways in which artifacts can contain political properties. 1. “Instances in which the invention, design, or arrangement of a specific technical system becomes a way of settling an issue in the affairs of a particular community.” (22) 2. “Cases of what can be called ‘inherently political technologies,’ man-made systems that appear to require or be strongly compatible with particular kinds of political relationships.” (22) The Theory of Technological Politics Winner offers a series of illustrations in defense of the theory of technological politics (TTP). ● Robert Moses, and the low-hanging overpasses on Long Island, NY parkways. (1920s - 1970s) ○ Moses deliberately designed and built these overpasses so that public buses couldn't travel on his highways, in order to achieve a particular social effect. ○ His reasons reflected his social class bias and racial prejudice. ○ Only upper and middle class whites who owned personal vehicles could use the parkways. ○ Poor people and blacks, who normally used public transit, could not use the parkways. ○ This limited access of racial minorities and low-income groups to Jones Beach. ○ Moses even vetoed a proposal to extend the Long Island Railroad to Jones Beach. ○ Long since Moses’ death, his public works will continue to shape New York. The Theory of Technological Politics ● Cyrus McCormick’s reaper manufacturing plant in Chicago. (1880s) ○ ○ ○ ○ Installed pneumatic molding machines, an untested innovation, at a cost of $500,000. McCormick was at war with the National Union of Iron Molders. The new machines, manned by unskilled laborers, produced inferior castings at a higher cost than the earlier process. Three years later, the machines were abandoned. But the Unions were destroyed. “The story of these technical developments...cannot be adequately understood outside the record of workers’ attempts to organize, police repression of the labor movement in Chicago during that period, and the events surrounding the bombing at Haymarket Square.” (24) The Theory of Technological Politics “It is obvious that technologies can be used in ways that enhance the power, authority, and privilege of some over others, for example, the use of television to sell a candidate. In our accustomed way of thinking, technologies are seen as neutral tools that can be used well or poorly, for good, evil, or something in between. But we usually do not stop to inquire whether a given device might have been designed and built in such a way that it produces a set of consequences logically and temporally prior to any of its professed uses.” (25) Consider the following: How many times have you looked at your smartphone or laptop during lecture? What makes it so seductive? Was it designed to be so? The Theory of Technological Politics ● University of California, and the mechanical tomato harvesters in CA. (1940s - Present) ○ The machine harvests tomatoes in a single pass. ○ It cuts, shakes, and sorts the produce into 25 ton capacity cargo units, before shipment to canning factories. ○ “To accommodate the rough motion of the harvesters, agricultural researchers had to breed new varieties of tomato that are hardier, sturdier, and less tasty than those previously grown.” (26) ○ Harvesters cost more than $50k each, far too expensive for small farmers. ○ Tomato growers declined from 4,000 in the 1960s to about 600 by 1973. ○ By the late 1970s, an estimated 32,000 jobs in the tomato industry had been eliminated as a direct consequence of mechanization. The Theory of Technological Politics Two further arguments: 1. One claims that the adoption of a given technical system actually requires the creation and maintenance of a particular set of social conditions as the operating environment of that system. (32) e.g., nuclear power plants → techno-scientific-industrial-military-elite. 2. A second claims that a given kind of technology is strongly compatible with, but does not strictly require, social and political relationships of a particular stripe. (32) e.g., solar energy → more compatible with democratic, egalitarian societies, but such political relationships are not a requirement. The Theory of Technological Politics One final illustration: The Atomic Bomb “[The] atom bomb is an inherently political artifact. As long as it exists at all, its lethal properties demand that it be controlled by a centralized, rigidly hierarchical chain of command closed to all influences that might make its workings unpredictable. The internal social system of the bomb must be authoritarian; there is no other way. The state of affairs stands as a practical necessity independent of any larger political system in which the bomb is embedded, independent of the type of regime or character of its rulers.” (34) The Theory of Technological Politics Winner argues that the TTP is the best way to account for the relationship between ethics and technology. Technological artifacts are designed from within specific socio-economic political relationships. Socio-economic political relationships are later influenced by the technological artifacts that come into existence. And this dynamic continues on, from generation to generation…. Further Examples Cody Wilson’s 3D printed gun: “The Liberator”, bypasses all known detection measures. Tracking Point’s self-aiming gun: a real-life “aimbot” that blurs the distinction between agency and intention-in-action. Autonomous drones/weaponry: AI systems combined with metadata profiling techniques that increasingly reduce human decision-making in real-time scenarios. Blockchain technologies/Cryptocurrencies: Appears to favor decentralization rather than centralization; “built-in” anonymity, yet establishes a transparent public ledger; seemingly unhackable given the distribution of nodes across the globe (i.e., functionally similar to the Internet). Cell Phones Are Changing African Agriculture Five Ways Cell Phones are Changing Agriculture in Africa. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Access to market prices. Micro-insurance. Livestock data-tracking, e.g., iCow from M-Farm. Instant weather information. Social-networking within farming communities, e.g., CocoaLink. “Through technological creation and many other ways as well, we make a world for each other to live in.” (Winner, 18) Engineering changes the world. …so it’s important to think about how what you’re building might change things, and for whom it might change things! GMOs as world-changers. By inserting genes in existing organisms to produce particular traits that will address particular problems. ● e.g. “Golden Rice”, modified to produce grain higher in beta-carotene. GMOs as world-changers. GMOs as world-changers. What sort of problems are GMOs trying to solve? ○ Famine, malnutrition, availability of food supply. ○ Addresses Vitamin A deficiency in people with marginal diets. ○ Impact on blindness, immune function. ○ Importing/Exporting goods, trading, and distribution, etc. What sort of obstacles and problems keep us from fulfilling our goals? ○ ○ Economic, social, political, biological, environmental conditions. “Visible problems” and “Invisible problems”. Regulating GMOs: Different Strategies. • US/Canada: “substantial equivalence” (assume crop is practically identical to conventionally bred; no labeling required). • Europe: “precautionary principle” (if there are any doubts about safety, research; labeling required). Regulating GMOs: Different Strategies. Labeling and autonomy • “Give us the information and trust us to choose!” ○ Are those choices driven by understanding of the information, or by fear? ○ Is food safety the only effect that matters in evaluating GMOs? • Food doesn’t come straight from Monsanto labs to our tables or grocery stores. ○ Not all GMOs are food crops. ○ Need to understand systems of crop production to assess impacts of GMOs. Impacts of Bt cotton in India. • Insert gene from bacillus thuringiensis into cotton genome. • Cotton plant produces Bt toxin, which acts as natural pesticide. • Problem GMO tries to solve. ○ Crop loss due to cotton bollworm. ○ Need to apply pesticides to crops. • Based on Monsanto test-beds, projected increased cotton yields for farmers. Impacts of Bt cotton in India. ● ● Farmers did not see projected increase in yields. Best experimental conditions vs. actual conditions in the real world. ○ Reduced crop-loss to bollworm but increased crop-loss to pests not targeted by Bt genes (especially “sucking pests”). ○ Shift in pest population (more sucking pests, fewer “beneficial pests” that naturally target cotton bollworms). ○ Emergence of Bt-resistant cotton bollworm. (coupled w/decline of natural bollworm enemies). ● ● For farmers, one of the problems to solve is economic: growing enough crop to make a living. Compared to local varieties: ○ Bt cotton produced shorter staple (lower price at market). ○ Bt cotton had lower yields. ○ Bt seeds cost more. Impacts of GM corn in Mexico. ● GM seeds used by well-capitalized farmers. ● Priced out of reach for small, rural farmers. ● Most GM seeds planted in Mexico are not producing crops intended for direct human consumption. ○ ● Instead, used for animal feed, agro-fuel, cooking oil, sweeteners. Two distinct markets for crops: ○ NAFTA partners (no labeling). ○ European markets (GMO vs. non-GMO labeled). ○ Pollen drift as problem in being able to sell in European markets! Regulating GMOs: Different Strategies. • US/Canada: “substantial equivalence” (assume crop is practically identical to conventionally bred; no labeling required). • Europe: “precautionary principle” (if there are any doubts about safety, research; labeling required). Impacts of GM corn in Mexico. Impacts on crop biodiversity? ● Big growers, crop monocultures. ● Impacts on land, jobs, food, immigration, etc. • More land used for big, commercialized farms with export crops. • Less land used to grow food for local consumption. • Fewer jobs for peasants. • More families forced to become migrant workers (or dependent on remittances). • Worse diet for poor in Mexico. Impacts of GM crops. What kind of problem are you trying to solve? • Biological • Economic • Social In the real world, can you isolate one without impacting the others? Winner’s “Technologies as Forms of Life” Problems with a working philosophy of technology… ● ● There isn’t one... We aren’t thinking about our technologies. An illustration: John Glenn’s observation of the planet Earth while aboard Friendship 7 in February 1962 (55 years ago)... Tom Wolfe writes that “The world demanded awe, because this was a voyage through the stars. But [Glenn] couldn’t feel it. … It was the simulators.” “Synthetic conditions generated in the training center had begun to seem more “real” than the actual experience” (3). Problems with Philosophy of Technology “It is reasonable to suppose that a society thoroughly committed to making artificial realities would have given a great deal of thought to the nature of that commitment. … At this late date in the development of our industrial/technological civilization the most accurate observation to be made about the philosophy of technology is that there really isn’t one.” (4) Problems with Philosophy of Technology But what might a philosophy of technology look like, anyway? “The basic task for a philosophy of technology is to examine critically the nature and significance of artificial [or artifactual] aids to human activity.” (4) Carl Mitcham distinguishes two approaches (1994): 1. Humanities philosophy of technology ○ 2. Continuous with humanities and social sciences Analytic philosophy of technology ○ Continuous with philosophy of science and analytic philosophical traditions See: Problems with Philosophy of Technology Whose voice is missing in the conversation? Winner claims that “Engineers have shown little interest in filling this void. …Engineers appear unaware of any philosophical questions their work might entail…. “As a way of starting a conversation with my friends in engineering, I sometimes ask, “What are the founding principles of your discipline?” … that is, “[Can you give] a coherent account of the nature and significance of the branch of engineering in which [you] are involved?” (4) Technological Somnambulism “Somnambulism” means “sleep-walking”. So, Winner is suggesting that we aren’t paying attention to how technologies inform and make manifest our worlds. Instead, we’re technological sleepwalkers. “Why is it that the philosophy of technology has never really gotten under way? Why has a culture so firmly based upon countless sophisticated instruments, techniques, and systems remained so steadfast in its reluctance to examine its own foundations?” (5) Technological Somnambulism Two reasons: 1. Our unwavering belief in the idea of “progress”. ● 2. “[Since] the 20th century it is usually taken for granted that the only reliable sources for improving the human condition stem from new machines, techniques, and chemicals.” Our belief that the human relationship to technical things is “too obvious” to merit serious reflection. ● Inherited basic categories: making and use. Technological Somnambulism “What is needed is an interpretation of the ways, both obvious and subtle, in which everyday life is transformed by the mediating role of technical devices….Individual habits, perceptions, concepts of self, ideas of space and time, social relationships, and moral and political boundaries have all been powerfully restructured in the course of modern technological development.” (9) “For the interesting puzzle in our times is that we so willingly sleepwalk through the process of reconstituting the conditions of human existence.” (10) Beyond Impacts and Side Effects “Social scientists have tried to awaken the sleeper by developing methods of technology assessment.” (10) “But an unfortunate shortcoming of technology assessment is that it tends to see technological change as a “cause” and everything that follows as an “effect” or “impact.” This approach assumes that the causes have already occurred or are bound to do so in a normal course of events.” (10) That is, we assume “...that those who will experience the change are obliged to simply endure it. Humans must adapt. That is their destiny. There is no tampering with the source of change, and only minor modifications are possible at the point of impact.” (10-11) Beyond Impacts and Side Effects “Hence, the very act of using the kinds of machines, techniques, and systems available to us generates patterns of activities and expectations that soon become “second nature.” We do indeed “use” telephones, automobiles, electric lights, and computers in the conventional sense of picking them up and putting them down. But our world soon becomes one in which telephony, automobility, electric lighting, and computing are forms of life in the most powerful sense: life would scarcely be thinkable without them.” (11) Beyond Impacts and Side Effects “As they become woven into the texture of everyday existence, the devices, techniques, and systems we adopt shed their tool-like qualities to become part of our very humanity.” (12) ● ● ● ● ● TV & Babysitting in the 1950s to present…. Smartphones in the 2010s to present…. Altering human biology via genetic engineering…. Humanizing computers for general use…. “Hello, you’ve got mail.” Anthropomorphising robotics and artificial intelligence…. Beyond Impacts and Side Effects “It makes sense to the adoption of digital computers might alter the way people think of their own faculties and activities. ...we would expect that changes of this kind would appear, sooner or later, in the language people use to talk about themselves. Indeed, it has now become commonplace to hear people say “I need to access your data.” “I’m not programmed for that.” “We must improve our interface.” “The mind is the best computer we have.” (16) … “I need time to process that.” “I need to decompress.” Pay attention to our metaphors! Return to Making “From this point of view, the most important question about technology becomes, As we “make things work,” what kind of world are we making?” “This suggests that we pay attention not only to the making of physical instruments and processes,...but also to the production of psychological, social, and political conditions as a part of any significant technical change.” “Are we going to design and build circumstances that enlarge possibilities for growth in human freedom, sociability, intelligence, creativity, and self-government? Or are we headed in an altogether different direction?” (17) Return to Making “Where there are substantial changes being made in what people are doing and at a substantial investment of social resources, then it always pays to ask in advance about the qualities of the artifacts, institutions, and human experiences currently on the drawing board.” “Even engineers and other technical professionals have much to contribute here when they find courage to go beyond the narrow-gauge categories of their training.” “Through technological creation and many other ways as well, we make a world for each other to live in. Much more that we have acknowledged in the past, we must admit our responsibility for what we are making.” (18) ...
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GMO Social Impact Analysis
Course Details




Genetically modified crops are produced with the aim of curbing the hunger crisis. They
are created to be drought resistant, in an area where there is little rainfall, or pest resistant in
areas where there is abundant pest that interfere with their production. As much as GMO have
been used to increase productivity, some areas have been widely impacted negatively due to their
introduction. GMOs are produced in large quantities to foresee better harvesting. This means that
large tracks of land are required. Local small-scale farmers find this difficult to keep us since
they cannot afford to do such big farming. Instead, large corporation, with sufficient capital,
venture into the production of the Bt crops, leaving the local farmers with nothing to produce.
They, therefore, have an option to migrate to work in the farms of this corporation. For this
assignment, I will look into how the introduction of Bt crops, have affected the local farmers
socially, comparing the effects to Indian and Mexican farmers in particular. India has been
known for the production of Bt cotton, while in Mexico, there has been an...

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