Red and green biotechnology

Traditionally, "red biotechnology" is the term applied to medical processes, producing drugs such as insulin, dornase alpha, and

Betaseron, etc., whereas "green biotechnology" is applied to agricultural processes, producing herbicide-tolerant soybeans, Bt corn, and disease-resistant papaya, etc. But what about: vitamin C, beta-carotene-enhanced rice, India's "Protato," hepatitus B vaccine in banana, or reduced mycotoxin in Bt corn?

Why is the distinction between red and green biotechnology necessary? Ethical principles demand that condemning one use of a "forbidden" technology must condemn all uses. Yet those arguing that green biotechnology is ethically questionable rarely raise the same question about medical uses of the same technology. The situation here differentiates between using rDNA to increase crop or food production, and using rDNA to generate medical treatments, especially such treatments as dornase alpha, for which there is no non-rDNA alternative. To argue that it is acceptable to abandon one's principles to support an unethical practice when that practice provides medical benefits, but not when the same practice provides food, is spurious and shallow. Clearly, food is a life-saving product for many poor people around the world, as important for sustaining life as any medicine in developed countries.

In the past, distinguishing agricultural applications from medical applications of rDNA technologies has been relatively easy, as it is a simple matter to draw a line between, for example, "herbicide-tolerant soybeans" and "insulin." But recent innovations have blurred this simple dichotomy. Most vitamin C tablets are now synthesized from corn, and over half the US corn crop is of genetically engineered varieties. The fact that the chemical composition of the vitamin C is identical, whether coming from genetically engineered corn or traditional corn, is irrelevant, because we are dealing with ethical issues of the use of rDNA. The point here is that vitamin C cannot be readily assigned to the (ethically acceptable) medical or the (ethically unacceptable?) food category. Other products of rDNA applications are similarly obscured: foods with enhanced nutrient content clearly have both medical and food value. And foods modified to deliver medical agents, such as vaccines, cannot be readily categorized as exclusively medical or exclusively food. Finally, the medical benefits of Bt insect-protected biotech corn (due to the reduced incidence and content of mycotoxins) are apparent, yet the rDNA corn was developed for agronomic value.

These examples show that the easy dichotomy between the ethically sound "red" biotechnology and ethically unethical "green"

biotechnology is not sustainable, and the ethical distinction cannot be logically supported.

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