Bioethics@

Lost in the Maize

By Isabel Lopez-Calderon, Steven Hill, L. Horst Grimme,
Michael Lawton, and Anabela M. L. Romano

Genaro Moura (GM) and Oswaldo Fernándes (OF) are farmers who grow their crops in neighbouring fields. GM has planted a non-sweet forage maize that is genetically engineered to contain high levels of essential amino acids. He has followed all regulations but has not informed anyone that he is planting transgenic plants. This is because he is afraid that the environmental organization "Maize Liberation Front" will destroy his plantation and organize a campaign against him.

His neighbour OF, is opposed to genetic modification and uses only organic methods of agriculture. He is under a strict contract to sell his crop of sweet corn to the Gerber Baby Food Company. His crop must be certified as organic (under current regulations, organic food must be free of any transgenic material).

GM has noticed that lately, some of the corn kernels of his own crop that he has eaten, are sweet. He suspects that some of the pollen from OF's field has drifted into his field and has pollinated his plants.

This does not affect the value of his crop. But he realises that pollen from his genetically modified plants may have also drifted into his neighbour's field. GM realises that if foreign genes have been transfered to OF´s maize, the entire organic crop will be rejected by the Gerber Baby Food Company.

GM decides NOT to inform OF that his crop may be contaminated with foreign genes.

Question 1. Has GM made the right decision?

Identify the principles behind GM's decision.
Identify the interested parties and how they may be affected by GM's decision.

Later that week, GM reconsiders his decision. He decides to tell OF about the possible cross pollination. OF is upset but realizes that his own economic livelihood is threatened if it is revealed that his organic crop is contaminated by the GM maize.

Question 2. What do you think OF should do? Justify your position.

OF decides to find out more about the genetically modified maize that GM has grown. He spends 6h on the internet to research this topic. He finds that the maize has been approved by the Federal authorities, and that it has been grown for over 3 years, without there being any health problems reported. Although OF is opposed to genetically modified food, he concludes that in this case the risk of substantial contamination is very low. He decides not to inform the Gerber Baby Food Company about the problem.

Question 3. Did OF make the right decision? Justify your answer.

OF performs tests that show that his crop is completely free of any genetically modified material. He informs the Maize Liberation Front about GM´s crop, knowing full well that they will destroy it.

Question 4. Did OF do the right thing? Justify your answer.


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Last Update 06/06/03