Gluttony: The Ultimate Vice?
by anoifdk on February 9, 2017 - 1:58pm
Dead children. A malnourished population. Those widespread images are disseminated by the media to such an extent that most people can clearly picture the horrific deformities and protruding bones of the people in question. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, approximately 1 in 9 people do not have access to enough food to maintain a healthy lifestyle (“Hunger Statistics”). This is a pressing issue since millions are currently deprived of basic human rights. Recently, there has been heated discussion over a possible solution to the world’s hunger problem: genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The topic, however, raises a lot of controversy because some believe they affect society in a harmful manner. Through the lens of virtue ethics, GMOs are in fact unethical for they promote vice rather than virtue.
Monsanto, a GMO giant, claims they want to help farmers grow more food over the next few decades in order to meet the growing demand (“Our Pledge”). Genetically modified food allows for a greater quantity of produce since it renders the harvest more resistant to destructive pests, consequently resulting in the existence of more food (Hsaio). Furthermore, the turnover rates of the crop can be increased by manipulating the genome in order to speed up the maturation process in the food (Phillips). The summum bonum — the highest good — when referring to virtue ethics is the idea of maximizing the amount of virtues and minimizing the amount of vices amassed by the agent; in this case, the agent being the companies (Hendricks). That is why this ethical framework, when solely considering Monsanto’s assertions, would encourage GMOs for they could theoretically provide sustenance for a substantial percentage of the Earth’s population, showcasing generosity, kindness, and accessibility.
However, according to anti-GMO activists, there are ethically negative aspects of genetically modified organisms if we look at its social implications. Farmers have to continuously purchase seeds from millionaire companies each year rather than planting those from previous harvests (“Falling Short”). The enormous profits go directly to the small number of elitist CEOs at the head of corporations such as Monsanto and the farmers lose income (“Falling Short”). Monsanto states that they value “respect”, but their actions blatantly contradict that statement (“Our Pledge”). Furthermore, attempts at solving the world’s hunger crisis in this way is not effective because the principal distribution of genetically engineered food is located in developed countries rather than developing ones (“Will GM Crops”). Therefore, Monsanto fails to follow their own claims of helping society, ultimately going against the virtues they advertize.
Theoretically, from a virtue ethics perspective, the idea of genetically altered food looks extremely promising. It seems to promote generosity and compassion, along with the fairness of providing the poor with a greater quality of life. Those are all critical virtues that better society. However, the real-life applications of the method introduces corruption and abuse of power at the heart of companies like Monsanto. This corruption leads to deceitfulness and the exploitation of poverty-stricken farmers, which constitutes severe vices. Therefore, genetically modified food is fundamentally and morally reprehensible.
“Falling Short on Feeding the World.” Union of Concerned Scientists. 9 Jan. 2012, http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genet...
Hendricks, Scotty. "Virtue Ethics: A Moral System You’ve Never Heard of — But Probaby Use." Big Think, http://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/virtue-ethics-the-moral-system-you-...-never-heard-of-but-have-probably-used. Accessed 9 February 2017.
“Hunger Statistics.” World Food Programme. https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats
Hsaio, Jennifer. “GMOs and Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful?” Harvard University The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/gmos-and-pesticides. Accessed 9 February 2017.
“Our Pledge.” Monsanto. http://www.monsanto.ca/whoweare/Pages/monsanto-pledge.aspx
Phillips, Theresa. "Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Transgenic Crops and Recombinant DNA Technology." Scitable, http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/genetically-modified-organisms-gmos-transgenic-crops-and-732. Accessed 9 February 2017.
“Will GM Crops Feed the World?” cban. Oct. 2014, http://www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/Feeding-the-World/Will-GM-Crops-Feed-the-World2