Technological Dimension of Globalization
by Paul J. Dejillas
Today, we are witnessing the rapid advance of science and technology, especially in the areas of (1) information and communications; (2) transportation that allows faster transfer of goods as well as greater interaction of individuals between and among countries all over the globe; and (3) biotechnology which is introducing successful innovations in agriculture and medicine, the products of which are spreading fast like wildfire across national borders without any restrictions. This phenomenon is what is referred to as “technological globalization.” But, for over several decades now, the advance has only continued to benefit the technologically literate countries and those who can afford to pay for its price. Worse, it has only spawned seeds of destruction on the health and lives of many people as well as on the ecosystem of the developing and least developed countries.
If this trend continues, the world will be eventually dictated by those who have a comparative advantage in today’s advancing science and technology, especially because the other natural resources---land, labor, and capital---are becoming scarcer, more costly, and less productive. Those who possess the technology will control the international flow of economic wealth and capital, political power, and culture. The less technologically adept will necessarily be sidelined and relegated to mere consumers of today’s technological products.
In developing this article, I have these two simple objectives in mind:
1. To highlight the developments of today’s science and technology in the context of a rapidly advancing process of globalization; and
2. To examine their effects---both positive and negative---on the people in the developing and least developed countries.
The above concerns are basic and vital in coming up with an alternative approach to science and technology that is holistic, integrative, and more sensitive to the local peoples’ diverse knowledge, practices, and beliefs as well as to the limited resources of the developing and least developed countries.
Today’s Technological Developments
Technological innovations in the field of communications have created a more integrated world, linked by computers, scanners, fax machines, the Internet, satellites, instantaneous money transfers, and cellular phones (O’Connor 2002:4). The wonders and benefits that technology brings are enormous. Its ability to compress words, numbers, texts, manuscripts, pictures, music, and even movies through a process called digitization, and its ability to transmit these through telephone lines, satellites, and fiver-optic cables to any place around the world, speeds up the interconnectedness of peoples and countries worldwide. What is remarkable is that access to technology empowers individuals. With a computer, Internet, credit card processor, phone line, or color printer, anybody with the proper motivation, information, and skill can become instantly a producer, publisher, merchandise trader, or financial investor. In the comfort of their homes, individuals can put up a retail market, a consulting firm, a real-estate agency, a brokerage firm, a books and video store, and many others without the need of renting a warehouse or an office, hiring employees, or paying additional overhead expenses. Technology has been able to reduce time and distance barriers, thus, making foreign trade, investments, and technology transfer faster and less expensive (Wilson III 1998:22).
Because of the benefits that it brings, for a span of only five years, Internet users ballooned from 30 million in January 1996 to 562.47 million in January 2002, representing 0.73 percent of the world population in January 1996 to more than nine percent in January 2002 (see table below).
Internet Users: 1996-2002
Internet Users As Percentage of World Population
Source: Nua Internet Surveys https://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/charts/ internettable.htm
The timing of the spread of the Internet is phenomenal compared with other media of communications. While it took 38 years for radio to reach the 50 million mark listeners, 14 years for television to reach the 50-million mark viewers, it only took the Internet (world wide web) four years to reach the 50-million mark users.
Meanwhile, the price of a three-minute call from New York to London dropped from $244.65 in 1930 to $31.58 in 1970, and to $3.32 in 1990 (IMF 1997:45). Today, however, it is almost free through the Internet.
Timing the Spread of Technologies
Number of Years from Inception
To 50 Million Users
World Wide Web
Source: Economist as culled from https://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/charts/techsp1.htm.
Meanwhile, today’s advances in biotechnology are introducing innovations in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and industry. Biotechnology became known in 1953 when Dr. James Watson and Francis Crick first discovered the double-helix shape of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid (Watson 1969; Nottingham 1998:11). The discovery prompted a series of scientific questions, many of which still remain unanswered to this day: How exactly does DNA work? What are its functions?
Earlier studies have given us a glimpse of the nature and structure of DNA. DNA is described picturesquely as a strand laid out in patterns of molecules strung together in a very long chain (Wolff 2001:4, 170). Its structure is found to be double helix, consisting of intertwining base pairs that are held together in sequence, and stretched like rungs on a twisted ladder, similar to a double-helix twisted rope (Yount 2000:5). If the sequence of bases on one strand is known, then the sequence of the other strand of the double helix is easily determined because of the specific way that the base pairs combine. Four base molecules make up the DNA code: adenine (A), cytosine (C), thymine (T), and guanine (G). It is now known that A pairs with T and C with G. These are called “base pairs”---CG and AT. The entire DNA molecule is often compared to a zipper. The teeth of the zipper can be made of only two possible molecular pairs, either “CG” or “AT.”
An interesting discovery is that the long strands of molecules of DNA hold information and instructions, which are coded in the individual parts of DNA, known as genes, a term coined by William Bateson in 1913 (Norkse et al. 1986:20). Genes are portions of the DNA that contain instructions for making proteins, the chemicals that do most of the work of the cell; they are responsible for imprinting particular characteristics of an organism, e.g., eye color. What is of interest is that genes are also known to be inheritable units, i.e., their instructions can be passed on from one generation to the next. Although the emphasis is on human genes, studies have also been made about the genes of other organisms, including mice, zebra fish, fruit flies, yeast, and bacteria (McCamant 2002:72). The intensifying interest in studying DNA can be shown in the fact that mapping the genes of animals, plants, and humans is now a multibillion-dollar industry (Wolff 2001:172).
After knowing the structure of DNA, the next concern is to know which gene is responsible for any particular characteristic, personality, or trait. This is the process of knowing the genetic code. Genetic coding is extremely important because when the human DNA is ultimately deciphered, it becomes possible to know which gene is normal and which is defective, or diseased. The next step is just but logical, to explore how to make new drugs or to halt the progress of a disease. This is done by genetically modifying a patient’s DNA. Modifying a gene means inserting a gene from another species into the diseased gene of the patient. Transferring a gene from one species to another is done by cutting molecular strands of DNA. To this cut, DNA is then attached a new DNA coming from a different organism and spliced back together to form the “composite” or “recombinant” DNA (Wolff 2001:10, 187; Goodman et al. 1987:102; Nottingham 1998:11).
For example, one strand of the DNA chain with a C-C-G-G will only attach itself to another DNA strand of the same or another organism with the sequence G-G-C-C. This is possible because all genes have the same basic structure and work in the same way; C and G go together and A goes with T only. If the two strands coming from two different species are joined together, a new pair is produced known as recombinant DNA. The recombinant DNA is simply the “hybrid DNA produced by joining pieces of DNA from different organisms” (Nottingham 1998:11). This technique is also called recombinant genetic engineering or gene-splitting. The objective of genetic engineering is to produce more or different kinds of organisms, (called transgenic), without passing the normal process of reproduction, e.g., pollination and sexual reproduction (Lappé and Bailey 1998:155). Genetic engineering is then able to create and produce other organisms, which Nature’s evolutionary process would not have otherwise created.
How is this done considering that genes are so minute? Genetic engineers have been able to acquire the knowledge and ability to produce technologies that work at the scale of atoms, so small that it cannot be seen without a microscope. Technically, known as nanotechnology, we see its results in the production of microchips and microprocessors that contain electronic structures smaller than one-millionth of an inch (Fishbine 2002:49). In the field of medical science, imagine a machine (now known as biochip) the size of bacteria, operating like a robot with arms, legs, eyes, brains, and senses, injected into the body and programmed to seek out, detect, diagnose diseases, locate defective genes or proteins, destroy every cancerous cell, repair old cells, and even reconstruct human bodies one cell at a time (Fishbine 2002:6).
To facilitate the analysis of the tens of thousands of genes and some three million base pairs of the human genome, genetic engineers have developed a sophisticated software called bioinformatics, which is able to harness the huge amount of data being created. This software is becoming indispensable in the process of making these identifications and comparisons (McCamant 2002:74). Biotech tools such as these enable genetic engineers in the very near future “to grow organs to replace worn out or diseased organs.” This medical breakthrough of developing biotech tools should be able to facilitate the treatment of life-threatening diseases and extend the lives of people. Today, funds continue to flow in huge amounts to finance research studies designed for genetic profiling and predisposition for the disease, certain cognitive abilities, or anti-social behavior.
The development of biotech tools in the future is almost limitless. Scientists are foreseeing the possibility that most computers will one day be biologically based machines, or “wetware.” Applying the principle of neural networks, an experiment was made programming a tiny machine to travel around a place without overrunning or overstepping any object along the way. The machine made several runs and after several bumps and disorientations, it finally was able to make the trip with fewer mishaps and a quicker outcome (Wolff 2001:249-250). This type of machine is different from conventional robots or computers, which can only do the things they are told to do. Wetware-based computers themselves learn how to execute a command because they possess artificial intelligence that has the power to learn from their mistakes and evolve. The process of producing biologically based machines involves culturing networks of switchable neurons, (to date, using neurons taken from leeches), that can rival the computing power of the human brain. Another method involves using DNA molecules and proteins as computer-switching mechanisms and mechanical parts.
Meanwhile, several other innovative methods, technologies, techniques, and biotech tools used in genetic engineering have been emerging to alter or manipulate the genome of a living organism. These techniques and tools can be mind-boggling to the uninitiated (see Wolff 2001:10-14, 223-227; McCamant 2002:9-11):
- Genomics is all about deciphering the precise structure and specific functions of genes.
- Genetics is all about the patterns of inheritance among offspring.
- Gene Therapy is the process of altering human DNA or genes to fix the cause of the disease is called.
- Genetic Engineering, or Recombinant DNA Technology – is all about modifying a gene in order to produce more or different kind of organism.
- Biotechnology – the application of genetic engineering.
- Agricultural Biotechnology (agbio) deals with crop production and breeding animals using genetic modification techniques.
- Industrial Biotechnology still deals with the production of some raw materials for specific industrial outputs, e.g., cotton for clothing materials. But in the field of semi-conductors, we are already seeing the production of so-called biotech tools like “microchips, study analysis software; high-output screening systems; ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology; and DNA arrays”
- Antisense Therapy – aimed at defeating the instruction given out by DNA. Has the potential to arrest the effects of cancer-causing oncogenes or in blocking the activity of viruses.
- Angiogenesis – gene therapy to create new blood vessels for treatment of heart disease and other degenerative conditions.
- Tissue generation – rebuilding of damaged body parts by stimulating tissue growth.
- Stem Cell Therapy – manipulation of the body’s most basic cell types, able to assume any form and grow new tissues.
- Gene shuffling – accelerating evolution by creating and testing entirely custom made genes.
- Pharming – inserting human genes in animals to manufacture drugs or to conduct research.
- Biochips – microminiaturized chips for high-volume, high-speed testing of disease characteristics, patient DNA profiles, and laboratory research.
- Nutraceuticals – foods modified to create therapeutic or nutritional effects.
- Cosmeceuticals – technologies to reverse the effects of aging.
- Biometrics – security systems based on genetic traits.
- Microrobotics – use of cellular and genetic molecules as machines.
- Biocomputing – use of cellular and genetic mechanisms as computers.
The new knowledge, innovative techniques, methodologies, and tools that biotechnology and genetic engineering are discovering are now spreading to other sectors of society, particularly agriculture, industry, and service as well as across national borders all over the globe. This process of biotechnological globalization is affecting changes in the nature, process, and course of evolution and globalization today. The benefits that they bring to humanity are undisputable.
Practical Benefits of Biotechnology
The above approaches, technologies, and products have already benefited mankind. When it is found that a disease is caused by a specific protein deficiency, through genetic manipulation, relevant genes can be injected into the body of the living cells with the specific instruction to make the protein internally. Conversely, if it is known that a disease is caused by the overproduction of a specific protein, genetic alteration can inform the body to stop that production immediately (McCamant 2002:76-77). In 1920, life expectancy was 54 years; by 1965, it rose to 70 years. All this was made possible because of vaccines and antibiotics. Genentech greatly improved the safety of diabetes treatment by producing an exact copy of human insulin.
In the field of agriculture, biotechnology uses genetic modification techniques to improve crop production and animal breeding. This process is now known as agricultural biotechnology (agbio, for short). By tampering the genes of some soil-borne bacteria and transferring these tampered genes to plants, scientists are able to produce crops that are highly resistant to harmful pests and insects. Micro-organisms are known to produce antibiotics as their defense mechanism. Through the application of genetic engineering, genes for anti-biotic resistance from these micro-organisms can be isolated and transferred to plants and crops. This procedure made possible the production of maize (zea mays) that is resistant to ampicillin (Nottingham 1998:93). Another example is given in the case of a gene from a bacterium, known as bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and known to produce insect-damaging toxoids), which has been inserted to plants to produce a number of pest-resistant crops like cotton (resistant to boll worms), tobacco (budworms), corn (corn borers - ostrinia nubilalis), and potato that is resistant to beetles (Lappé and Bailey 1998:64).
Using similar procedures of transferring a gene from one species to another species, genetic engineering is now able to produce crops that are resistant to weeds, diseases, insects and pests, high salinity, and drought. Weeds are known to compete with crops for moisture, nutrients, and light and thus could affect negatively both the quality and quantity of crop yields. Because of this, farmers apply a broad range of herbicides, spraying on the affected farm to control or kill weeds. Besides the additional costs expended by the farmers, herbicides, which come in several varieties, are also found to damage crops that have received herbicide sprays. Genetic engineering steps in by isolating genes present in some herbicide-resistant plants and injecting these extracted genes into other crops. Biotech firms are producing transformed crops engineered with herbicide-resistant genes, e.g. atrazine-resistant soybeans, frost-resistant strawberries, and glyphosate-resistant tobacco. Genes from alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and soil bacteria have also been used to produce transgenic crops resistant to Basta and other glufosinate ammonium herbicides (Nottingham 1998:39). Other transgenic or genetically modified crops include sugar, beets, corn, cotton, canola (spring rape), and rice, which are resistant to high dosages of herbicide known as Roundup (Lappé and Bailey 1998:4).
The same method is used in producing drought-resistant and salt-tolerant crops. In 1975, a bacteria called Pseudomonas syringae was discovered to contain a protein which when inserted into plants made crops such as citrus, strawberries, and potatoes susceptible to frost damage. Through genetic engineering, the gene was identified and removed from the normal Pseudomonas syringae bacteria. When the new bacteria were sprayed on plants, no frost damage was registered (Yount 2000:11). Another method is using a gene from another plant. For example, a gene that is resistant to drought, which is present in a cactus plant, can be isolated and injected into corn to produce a new variety of corn that is drought-resistant. Drought-resistant crops produced through genetic engineering have longer storage or shelf-life (Nottingham 1998:6-7). In the case of transgenic plants that are tolerant to high levels of salinity and other poor soil conditions, a gene from yeast that survives in salty environments is incorporated into the plant. Once in the transgenic plant, the gene works by causing sodium to be dislodged or pumped out of the cell. What is being developed now in the laboratory are salt-tolerant tomato, melon, and barley varieties (Nottingham 1998:75). With plant engineering, it will be much easier in the near future to produce and cultivate wheat, corn, and rice capable of increasing the yield of these crops even in poorer and adverse soil conditions due to low organic content, vulnerability to erosion, desertification, high salinity, changing rainfall patterns, and many more (Goodman et al. 1987:116).
In addition, genetic engineers are also able to develop more nutritional varieties of crops, e.g., cereal grains, and cassava (Manihot esculenta). The same process of gene therapy is also able to produce the right amount of protein, mineral, calcium, sugar content, and the intended vitamin of crops and livestock. A gene has already been injected into rice incorporating Vitamin A. The resulting transgenic crop, now popularly known as the “golden rice,” is now able to address the problem of the 400 million rice-dependent people who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, causing vision impairment and disease susceptibility. Technologies of this kind are said to be able to improve quality food and potable water production. The same process of gene therapy is also able to produce the right size, shape, weight, texture, color, aroma, and appearance of crops and livestock. Transgenic soybeans and canola have been engineered with a gene from brazil nut (Brtholletin excelsa) to produce methionine-rich soybean seeds and methionine-enriched oil, respectively. Methionine is one of the few nutrients that soybeans are known to lack (Nottingham 1998:70, 92).
By 1994, over 2,000 field tests of transgenic plants had taken place worldwide; there were no reported environmental disasters that resulted from the tests. In 1993, only a simple notification, not a permit, was needed for the testing of genetically modified strains of corn, cotton, potatoes, soybeans, tomatoes, and tobacco. By mid-1999, more than 50 genetically altered crops, including at least 24 crops, had been approved for sale in the U.S., where nearly half of its cotton, one-third of its soybeans, and 15 percent of its corn are already genetically modified (Yount 2000:12-13). Next to the U.S. are Argentina, Canada, and China. Europe, however, is still resisting the planting of transgenic crops.
In the field of livestock production and animal breeding, biotechnology has introduced new technologies like in vitro fertilization, cloning (the manipulation and duplication of genes and genetic patterns), twinning, and cell fusion in combination with embryo transfer (Goodman et al. 1987:117; Wolf 2001:4). It has been reported that British scientists were able to separate the cells of a developing sheep embryo so that each of the cells can be made to develop unto itself as an adult sheep. One embryo can produce five sheep that are genetically identical to each of the dissociated embryos (Yoxen 1983:164). Cloning can be applied to preserve endangered species; it is said to be more predictable than the natural process of reproduction. In 1996, the UK was already producing genetically engineered animals for biomedical research and breeders were also producing other transgenic livestock like cattle, sheep, pigs, and chicken for human consumption that have faster growth rates, lower fat levels, and increased disease resistance. It is reported that 50 transgenic pigs were sold for human consumption in Australia in 1995. The production of transgenic fish (salmon and catfish) for human consumption is now commonplace in laboratories around the world and fish farming is generally on the rise (Nottingham 1998:8-10).
Yet, biotechnological innovations have not only been applied to crop production and animal breeding but also to man. When applied to human beings, the technique is known as stem cell therapy, of which there are two approaches, embryonic and mature or adult stem cell therapy. Available data reveal that only one so far has been a success out of 277 tries of embryonic stem cell therapy (Yount 2000:17). Nonetheless, human cloning continues. In October 1993, Washington University announced that using defective human embryos that were already scheduled to be discarded by a fertility clinic, they were able to produce 48 embryos from a starting batch of 17. They did not, however, develop these embryos into fetuses (Yount 2000:45). But embryonic stem cell therapy is considered highly controversial since it involves tampering or even killing the embryo. What is favorably accepted is mature or adult stem cell therapy because life is not taken away. Cells taken from human brains, bone marrows, umbilical cords, or hip bones, can be placed on another person to treat diseases like Parkinson’s, leukemia, heart ailments, osteoporosis, and many more. By late 1996, about 1,5000 people worldwide were reported to have received modified genes aimed at treating about 30 different diseases. However, none has completely cured a disease yet; in fact, one was reported to have died in 1999 as a result of a gene therapy experiment (Yount 2000:43).
Biotechnological innovations for human applications are still going on and apparently, nobody can prevent this new science from extending its application to “human breeding.” Many anticipate that through genetic engineering, it is possible that defective genes and genes that orient an individual to socially-deviant behaviors can be altered to produce new human beings that are free from such defects and deviances. This will in turn eliminate the birth of genetically insane, homosexual, obese individuals; and it might be possible to produce geniuses and other such selected human traits.
In the field of industry, biotechnology has already produced transgenic raw materials. For example, cotton, an important raw material for clothing, including T-shirts, has already been genetically modified to be resistant to major insect pests and exported around the world (Nottingham 1998:78). Monsanto’s blue gene project aims to develop colored cotton fibre to eliminate the need for dying. It has also patented a number of genes that produce plastic materials in genetically modified crops. One most intriguing products is spider silk. Produced by a herd of transgenic goats, it exhibits a strength that is much stronger than steel, yet much lighter and flexible. The process involves using recombinant DNA, cloned from spiders and inserted into the goats to form very long chains of proteins, the same proteins used by spiders to spin their webs. Once perfected, it is anticipated that using this same genetically engineered spider silk, bullet-proof vests that are lighter, safer, and more flexible can be produced in the not-too-distant future (Wolff 2001:244-245).
The Darker Side of Technological Globalization
But the benefits of today’s technological advances are not spread evenly across nations. In the field of information and communications technology, the advance started mainly from highly developed countries due to the latter’s ability to finance research studies, laboratory experiments, and scientific explorations. Naturally, developed countries are also the first ones to reap the beneficial effects of technological globalization. For example, many of the Internet users come from developed countries, with the OECD cornering 92 individuals per 1,000 population in the year 2000 as against only 0.7 per 1,000 population in developing countries for the same period. The least developing countries have not yet registered any number of Internet users as of the same year (see table below).
The developing and least developed countries have to catch up with the developed countries or, if unable to do so because of insufficient resources, have to import these technologies and their products for a price or some other considerations that may not be financial. While the cost of buying computers and installing an Internet provider is going down because of competition, the cost remains hardly affordable to developing and least developed countries whose populations are still struggling for survival. Innovations in the field of communications technology have only made the rich much richer, this time much faster; while the poor have become poorer much faster. The net effect is that the rapid advance of science and technology has digitally divided the world into two: the “haves”---more educated digitally, more IT literate, and highly “wired”--- and the “have-nots” in the developing world (Wilson III 1998:16).
Internet Users by Region
Internet Users per 1,000
Internet Users per 1,000
Least Developed Countries
East Asia and the Pacific
Latin America and the Carribbean
Eastern Europe and the CIS
Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2002. . This table is reproduced from the Global Policy’s website - https://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/charts/hoststable.htm
In the field of biotechnology, the benefits derived from the application of genetic engineering only go to the genetic engineers themselves, or those who commissioned them to do the research, usually multinational corporations, which can afford the cost. The decoding of the mouse genes alone in 2002 cost $58 million (Wolff 2001:194-195). Celera, the corporation doing the decoding, hopes to recover its expenses and make a profit by charging as much as $5 million for access to its database plus possible royalties on resulting drugs. Ultimately, multinational corporations stand as the ones who will benefit much from technological globalization. The consumers, individual farmers, small producers, and manufacturers must pay the price to enjoy these benefits.
Understandably, biotech firms desire exclusivity and monopoly of their research studies. To ensure that they exclusively own the knowledge and the technology derived from the study, they are copywriting and patenting their knowledge and discoveries. Copyrights and patents are a major source of international controversy. While it may be accepted that genetic engineering enables farmers and producers in the least developed countries to increase the yield and quality of their products, the knowledge in the production of transgenic products, for example, Bt corn, “golden rice,” remains in the hands of big transnationalists because of copyrights and patents. Farmers who can no longer reproduce the patented seeds are forced to buy from the same multinational corporations that produce the seeds.
Patenting biotech discoveries is indispensable. In fact, according to Wolff, “no one would develop a drug if you didn’t have a patent” (2001:65). Biotech firms are crazily applying for patents even on those genes the functions and utility of which are not yet known. Celera Genomics boasts of some 10,000 patent applications on human genes, while Human Genome Sciences has 7,500 applications for patents on gene sequences, and Incyte Genomics with 7,000 pending applications. The US Patent Office says that in 2000 it had 30,000 biotech patent applications pending; 20,000 of them were gene-related (Wolff 2001:14).
There is this famous case told by Dr. Vandana Shiva in her lecture on “AHIMSA: Beyond Violence” last April 17, 2001, at the University of Washington in Seattle. A biotechnological firm, Monsanto Company, filed a court case against a Canadian farmer for alleged stealing of its patented transgenic canola crop. Suspecting that the farmer’s seeds were stolen, Monsanto hired detectives (Robinson’s Investigation) who found out that the farmer’s crops were indeed contaminated by the genes patented in the Monsanto seeds, which are growing on the neighboring farm. The farmer maintained that the contamination was a result of a natural process of germination by pollen carried by the bees, insects, and by other natural causes like the wind, from Monsanto’s farm to his farm. The farmer, however, may not have been able to prove this contention beyond any reasonable doubt in Court. Thus, in spite of his plea, the presiding judge decided in favor of Monsanto on the basis of the intellectual property rights law. The judge penned that it does not matter how the genes came into the farmer’s seeds. The patent gives Monsanto until February 23, 2010, the exclusive right to own the transgenic seeds, making the farmer liable to violations. And, as Dr. Shiva told it, the judge decided on March 25, 2002 sentencing the farmers to pay Monsanto $105,000 for the profit he would have earned in 1997 and $15 per acre of canola crop for 1998 because the seeds used, although owned, by the farmer were found to have genes that belong to Monsanto’s patented seeds.
Cases, like the one just cited, have caused alarming concern and fear all over the globe. Rightly echoed by groups from Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and France against the recent UNESCO-Microsoft Agreement on proprietary software, critics argue that patenting transgenic products will only lead developing and least developed countries to consider these genetically modified products or foods like miracle seeds, BT corn, golden rice, etc. as something merely to be bought by them rather than know-how’s or technologies to be taught, learned, and shared for the good of mankind. Farmers in the developing and least developed countries will remain for some time disenfranchised of the knowledge of how to improve the volume and quality of their yields if the formulas and techniques for producing these desired yields are continually kept hidden from them. It is feared that, if this trend continues, technological globalization, in particular biotechnology information, will forever victimize developing and least developed countries as consumers and colonized nations of the technologically informed and technologically advanced countries.
The same is happening in the field of medicine, where multinational pharmaceutical and agrochemical firms are using property rights and patent laws to claim ownership over many seeds and medicinal plants already used by indigenous communities for their medicinal or cosmetic value and, in some cases, usefulness as pesticides (Barlow and Clarke 2002:156). As it is happening today, any individual or corporation can gather a plant from a developing country, and through genetic engineering can alter or isolate a gene and patent the new plant variety or product without having to pay the indigenous peoples who in the first place supplied them with the traditional knowledge that enabled them to identify the plant (Atkinson 1994:12). One example is a case of a particular flower (Cananga odorata or ilang-ilang, as it is known in the Philippines, where it is grown), where Yves St. Laurent was able to secure a patent because of the perfume derived from this native Filipino species (Tabb 1999). Another case is the neem tree of India which for centuries has been known and used by indigenous communities for its medicinal value and its usefulness as a biopesticide. Since the early 1970s, American, European, and Japanese corporations have secured around 35 patents on numerous products extracted from the tree, while local communities received nothing for the appropriation of this knowledge to these foreign firms (Barlow and Clarke 2002:156; Tabb 1999). These two cases, and there are still many others, bring to the surface the issue of whether or not foreign multinational corporations can claim invention or discovery and proprietary rights of medicinal plants, seeds, or other living organisms, especially if they are already known and used by indigenous communities for their medicinal values long before these foreign corporations set foot into the land. The delegates to the International Conference of Indigenous Peoples, meeting in the Philippines in July 1999, categorically stated that no corporation or individual can make such a claim.
But the most deleterious effect, as a result of the application of genetic engineering, is the harm done to other plants, animals, man, and the environment. Genetic engineers acknowledge that genetic modification, manipulation, or alteration, being still in the laboratory stage, may not be able to generate the intended outcomes. It can happen that the results may produce recombinant genes that are harmful to other organisms, or they may produce results whose purpose and utility may still have to be discovered (Wolff 2001:198). One harmful effect is the risks to human health, where transgenic foods (“Frankenstein Foods” to critics) are feared to trigger allergic reactions. Another grim scenario is the contamination of other species. Transgenes, being inheritable, once released to the wider environment can appear in the genomes of the offspring of other crops or animals through pollination or in-breeding, making the resulting offspring impossible to eradicate (Nothingham 1998:87). In spite of its advances, genetic engineering is still in the “trial-and-error” stage, and this causes fears and resistance from many quarters. In agricultural biotechnology, for example, it is feared that genetic modification could lead to “zombie” farm animals programmed to feel no pain or stress and the emergence of so-called “Frankenstein Farmyards” (London Daily Mail 2000). With the advances that it is making, it is no longer impossible for biotechnology to clone human beings and “culture” them in isolated farms for future medical use, e.g., as donors for organ transplants.
In the field of crop production, the application of more potent herbicides for weed control is feared to become more intense and widespread, knowing fully well that new and emerging crops are now becoming herbicide-resistant. Consequently, the use of insecticide sprays is expected to increase in greater amounts. Some chemicals are also known to kill the organisms--- microbes, ants, earthworms, centipedes, etc.---that give off micronutrients and make the soil fertile and healthy for breeding seeds, crops, and fruits. As the soil becomes infertile, more potent chemicals and fertilizers are further applied to be able to produce the needed micronutrients. Heavy use of fertilizers is feared to harm the farmers’ health and the likelihood that other plants on which birds and animals depend for food will also be affected. Finally, when products are finally sold in the market, chemicals are again applied to speed up the ripening process of crops and maintain their freshness, appearance, and their original aromatic scent. It has been raised that all these chemicals go into man’s internal bodily organs, get assimilated into the blood, and finally affect not only his physical but also his mental health.
It is also advanced that transgenic goods, produced by shifting genes between different species, could create health risks by causing an imbalance of the immune system, or allergy, which can trigger some physical reactions like asthma, hay fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin diseases like eczema. For example, soybeans which have been genetically engineered with Brazil nut proteins could cause reactions in people with nut allergies (Economist 2003:63). It is reported that lawyers and judges often handle cases of “undeniable culpability of business” in the death of people in their communities due to contaminants they release into the water and air, to fumigate crops, or other damages caused to the local environment” (Taillant 2003). The sad fact is that farmers and manufacturers from developing and least-developed countries continue to use chemicals and have now become more dependent on MNCs for these fertility-restoring or productivity-enhancing chemicals (Connor 1999).
Because of genetic engineering and modification, scientists are now producing hybrid seeds that are resistant to pests, without requiring the pollination of bees and insects or some other natural way of reproduction. It has been found out, however, that these transgenic seeds are also vulnerable to pests and diseases requiring the production of appropriate chemicals and pesticides. The same companies that produce hybrid seeds are also the ones selling these chemicals and the market for hybrid seeds and chemicals are expanding in cahoots with local landlords, capitalist, lawmakers, and government officials.
Finally, there is this damage done to the environment. In the fields of agriculture, forestry, and mining, today’s science and technology have created gargantuan machinery and harmful chemicals that are applied violently with little regard to their environmental impact. Heavy machinery and earth-moving equipment continue to exploit rich mineral resources of our lands, lakes, and oceans in the name of growth and development, but in the process destroy the environment by denuding our forests, inundating low-lying areas, killing various kinds of animal and plant species, causing climatic change, damaging the ozone layer, and many more. Today’s large-scale automation is moving and shaking the earth 24 hours a day and seven days a week to allegedly increase productivity and improve economies of scale through mass production. Moreover, they are creating far more enormous amounts of toxic waste than the capacity of Mother Nature to absorb and cleanse pollution. They also deplete our rich natural resources---fossil fuels, potable water, forests, and lands---at a speed much faster than Mother Nature’s capacity to replenish itself (Venkat 2003).
It is also raised that transgenic crops are not only chemical dependent; they are also not compatible with sustainable development. Sustainability is maintaining the ecosystem: it is sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry, sustainable fishery, preserving crop genetic diversity rather than crop homogeneity, maintaining soil fertility, minimizing air, noise, and water pollution, and controlling pests and weeds. Transgenic crops, however, have unpredictable impacts on ecology and it is a challenge to detect their effects once they spread in the wild. It is feared that transgenic organisms might transform themselves into “superweeds” or “super pests” that are more vigorous or potent, requiring more potent chemical inputs, thus killing more organisms, endangering indigenous flora and fauna of natural habitats, and eventually destroying biodiversity and the ecosystem.
There are even indications of “a clear narrowing of the genetic basis of our food supply,” that could lead to monocultures, or the practice of growing huge numbers of nearly identical plants of the same variety, engineered for a single function (Shiva 1993:71-73; Yount 2000:48). How will this happen? It is known that plant seed and crop plants are deficient in different amino acids. For example, maize proteins are low in lysine and tryptophan, while legumes are deficient in the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine (Nottingham 1998:69-70). To avoid dietary deficiency, one has to consume a combination of plants or products. With genetic manipulation, however, all the essential amino acids can be supplied in one transgenic food plant, making other crops, deficient as they are, no longer necessary for nutritional purposes. Theoretically, it could be possible to produce one crop or animal that contains all or most of the basic nutritional requirements for man.
It has been raised time and again that biotechnological innovations have also opened a pandora’s box to abuse that may trigger more serious problems. When man began to tinker with the very stuff of life, through genetic engineering, his work became vulnerable to moral and ethical criticisms. Einstein sought to unravel the workings of the mind of God in order to understand creation and the evolution of the Universe. Some believe that because of the study of genetics, we are beginning to know how the mind of God works and that man---as His Co-creator---can now continue the process in the manner God’s mind intends. Celebrating the mapping of the genome at the White House ceremony, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, said: “We have caught the first glimpse of our instruction book, previously known only to God” (Wolff 2001:256).
Marginalization of the Traditional Methods and Practices
While the interest and acceptance of today’s new and emerging technologies continue to grow, there really exists a diversity of technological knowledge, practices, expertise, and tools. Many of these technologies and practices are considered indigenous or traditional; they still ring a bell to us. For example:
· Crop rotation, crop diversification, intercropping, multiple cropping
· Organic farming, composting
· Traditional ways of plant and animal breeding techniques
· Alternative medicine and health care
· Sustainable use and management of the ecosystem
Not too long ago, a farmer grew corn together with several other food crops, such as soybeans, on the same land. After one harvest, the farmer shifted to another crop following the same method. This method of multi-cropping and crop rotation, as was found out, did not deplete soil nutrients since different crops require different nutrients from the soil. Pests were known also to be minimal since the lifecycles of pests are broken because of the practice of growing different plants in different seasons or years. Thus, there was less need of chemicals, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. If the farmer decides to improve the quality of his crops, he mainly selects the best seeds and reserves these for planting for the next season. Thus, as years go buy, the quality of his harvests improves.
A Cornell University professor conducted a study that compared a conventional farm that used recommended fertilizer and pesticide applications, on one hand, and an organic animal-based farm, where manure was applied as well as an organic legume-based farm that used a three-year rotation of hairy vetch/corn and rye/soybeans and wheat on the other. The results indicate that “organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as does conventional farming, but uses 30 percent less energy, less water and no pesticides.” Among the study’s other significant findings are the following:
1. In the drought years, 1988 to 1998, corn yields in the legume-based system were 22 percent higher than yields in the conventional system.
2. The soil nitrogen levels in the organic farming systems increased by 8 to 15 percent. Nitrate leaching was about equivalent in the organic and conventional farming systems.
3. Organic farming reduced local and regional groundwater pollution by not applying agricultural chemicals.
History has proven that traditional farming techniques are known to maintain soil fertility, minimize pollution, control diseases caused by pests and insects, and check weed problems. They have been practiced even before pesticides came onto the market and have been known to produce dramatic crop improvement approaches do not disturb the ecosystem, which some transgenic crops are noted for (Cothran 2003:58-59; Nottingham 1998:160-164). In addition, these conventional farming techniques have already solved many problems for which genetic engineering applications have been designed to address.
If this is so, what led to the marginalization of the traditional method of farming? The few objections hurled against the traditional method were that it was designed mainly for small-scale production, and yet requires a lot of labor input. Moreover, in the case of plant breeding, the natural process of reproduction has been observed to be slow. It takes more or less 10 years to produce a better plant by cross-breeding and merely involves crops of the same species. In addition, cross-breeding from two different species is not possible since this already involves the transfer of foreign genes. With this realization, a modern farming method technique was introduced in the 1950s under the catchword “Green Revolution.” This new method abandoned multiple cropping and crop rotation in favor of monocultures, where the same crop is grown each year in the same field. However, the new method was highly capital-intensive and required heavy application of herbicides and pesticides since pests and plant diseases began to proliferate. The use of fertilizers became more pronounced since nutrients became depleted and soils got eroded. The introduction of farm machinery and chemicals also polluted groundwater, rivers, and lakes in the area. By killing the pests as well as the organisms that produce nutrients, the new method was also killing the birds and insects that feed on them, eventually destroying biodiversity and the ecosystem. In the end, the “Green Revolution” had to be abandoned by the farmers.
Meanwhile, during this period, a new science and technology, more sweeping and all-encompassing, emerged to take over the place of the “Green Revolution” and eventually wiped out the traditional methods of farming techniques in the developing and least developed countries. This is the science of biotechnology, which found its application not only in agriculture, but also in the manufacturing, industry, and services sectors. This is where we are at the moment, and the challenge is how to get out of the mesh that this new method has generated.
What would hinder farmers in the developing and least developed countries, then, from going back to the basics of the traditional method? There are farmers now who are going back to the traditional farming methods. But their efforts are highly insignificant considering that they are so few in numbers if viewed from the global level. Not only this, local governments are not giving their fullest support in terms of finances and technical assistance to the traditional farming methods, preferring instead the more lucrative technology of the West. Multinational corporations are spending millions for advertisement and lobby money to introduce new products and tools to the developing and least developed countries.
Towards a More Holistic Approach
The genetic-engineering vs. traditional technology debate remains unabated to this day. But, as demonstrated above, both of these approaches have their respective benefits and, because of this, the debate cannot just be reduced to an “either-or” proposition, i.e., totally rejecting one in favor of the other. A more holistic approach to technology could perhaps be adopted through a process of “technological integration.” Such an approach considers the merits of both Western and the peoples’ indigenous technological knowledge and practices. If this view is adopted, much of the challenge imposed upon those in the developing and least developed countries is focused on the acquisition and adoption of technological knowledge, skills, techniques, and tools of the West that support and reinforce their indigenous technological knowledge, practices, and beliefs. It is only through a process of blending the beneficial aspects of these two technological alternatives that both those in the developed countries and those in the developing and least developed countries can equally participate in defining the content as well as in directing the process of today’s global transformation.
*This article was prepared by the author as part of the series of lectures in the doctoral program on Applied Cosmic Anthropology at the Asian Social Institute. This is also published in the BEDAN Journal issue of 2010.
All of the above innovations are subsumed under the science of genetic engineering, or recombinant DNA technology. Because of this, biotechnology is often used today to refer to the application of genetic engineering. Biotechnology (biotech) and genetic engineering (genen) are now heavily utilized for commercial purpose both in the industrial and agricultural sectors.
The term “engineering” is used to refer to the process of constructing the recombined molecules to produce structural combinations of DNA by biochemical means (Lappé and Bailey 1998:26).
Fishbine (2002:6) also invites us to imagine another reality which is slowly unfolding …. a disposable machine, the size of a postage stamp, costing less than 10 cents. The machine is loaded with protein, DNA, and chemical sensors. When you place a single drop of blood in this machine, it will give you a compete genetic analysis, blood chemistry analysis, microbial and viral analysis, and a cross section of every medical test that can or will be derived from a blood sample. More amazing, you can have the results in 10 minutes. This machine is already a complete chemistry laboratory.
As expressed by one author, “proteins are much more than food in the eyes of biotech scientists. They are nature’s version of machinery. If the body requires a cutting device, a building tool, a messenger, or almost anything else, usually a protein is created to do the job. That’s why proteins appear to offer enormous potential to create micromachines and switching circuits’ (Wolff 2001:249).
Bt bacteria is known for their “remarkably selective toxicity for the leaf-eating larvae of moth and butterfly species” (Lappé and Bailey 1998:63). It was discovered in Thuringia, Germany in 1911 and has been available for commercial use for insect control since the 1930s.
Herbicide is defined as “a pesticide which usually affects only plants; a chemical with killing or growth inhibiting effects on plants” (Lappé and Bailey 1998:156).
The Contradictions of Globalization. Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project.
Source: Vandana Shiva. In a lecture on “AHIMSA: Beyond Violence” held at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, on April 17, 2001.
“Microsoft/UNESCO Agreement: Neo-colonialism in the Computer Era.” 2005. Article originally published in Liberation. January 5, 2004 and accessed on March 3, 2005 over the Internet at https://www.april.org/articles/divers/tribune-microsoft-unesco-liberation.html.en.
Cornell University, “Organic Farming Produces Same Yields But Uses Less Energy And No Pesticides.” July 13, 2005, posting date: August 03, 2005. Quoted from https://www.biosafety-info.net/article.php?aid=278. Organic farming can compete effectively in growing corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and other grains, although, the study cautions, it might not be as favourable for growing such crops as grapes, apples, cherries and potatoes, which have greater pest problems. For other studies demonstrating the benefits of organic farming over conventional farming see “Organic Agriculture Fights Back,” ISIS/TWN. Publication date: October 17, 2002. Posting date: March 17, 2004. Can be accessed at https://www.biosafety-info.net/article.php?aid=31.
“Lessons from the Green Revolution,” March/April 2000. Can be accessed at https://www.foodfirst.org/media/opeds/2000/4-greenrev.html.
Atkinson, Jeff. 1994. “GATT: What do the Poor Get?” Background Report No. 5. Melbourne, Australia: Community Aid Abroad, p. 12).
Bicket, Dougie. n.d. “Technological Determinism, Colonialism, and Postcolonialism.” A brief bibliographic essay that attempts to tie these ideas together. https://www.geneseo.edu/~bicket/panop/techdet.htm
Biswas A. K. (1979). "Climate, Agriculture and Economic Development." In Biswas M. R. & Biswas A. K. (eds.) Food, climate and man. John Wiley and Sons.
Chang Jen-Hu. (1977). "Tropical Agriculture, Crop Diversity and Crop Yields." Economic Geography Vol 53 No 3.
Cothran, Helen. 2003. Global Resources: Opposing Viewpoints. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press.
Dimbleby, Jonathan. 2003. “Organic Farming Protects the Environment and Sustains Human Life.” In Cothran, 2003, supra. Pp. 77-83.
Economist, “Genetically Engineered Foods Should Be Produced.” In Cothran, Helen. 2003. supra. pp. 60-67.
Fishbine, Glenn. 2002. The Investor’s Guide to Nanotechnology and Micromachines. N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Fusco, Coco. 2004. “Critique of Techno-Globalism.” In These Times. December 16, 2004.
Goodman, David, Bernardo Sorj & John Wilkinson. 1987. From Farming to Biotechnology. N.Y.: Basil Blackwell Ltd.
Gott R. (1985). The Guardian, August 20.
IMF. 1997. World Economic Outlook. Globalization: Opportunities and Challenges. Washington, DC. May 1997.
Juma, Calestous. 1989. The Gene Hunters: Biotechnology and the Scramble for Seeds. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Lappé, Marc and Britt Bailey. 1998. Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.
McCamant, James D. (ed.). 2002. Biotech Investing: Every Investor’s Guide. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
“Microsoft/UNESCO Agreement: Neo-colonialism in the Computer Era.” 2004. Article originally published in Liberation. January 5, 2004. This same article was accessed on March 3, 2005 at https://www.april.org/articles/divers/tribune-microsoft-unesco-liberation.html.en. See also “UNESCO and Microsoft sign cooperation agreement to help bridge the digital divide.” This can be accessed at https://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=23643&URL_DO=DO_ TOPIC&URLSECTION=201.html.
National Intelligence Council. n.d. “The Contradictions of Globalization.” Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project. https://www.cia.gov/nic/ NIC_globaltrend 2020_s1.html.
Nottingham, Stephen. 1998. Eat Your Genes: How Genetically Modified Food is Entering Our Diet. London and New York: Zed Books Ltd.
Rifkin, Jeremy. 1998. Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World: The Biotech Century. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.
Shiva, Vandana. 2003. “Genetically Engineered Foods Should Not Be Produced.” In Cohtran, supra. Pp. 68-76.
Tabb, William. 1999. “World Trade Organization?: Stop World Takeover.” This article is a revised version of a talk given at a teach-in on Free Trade, Neoliberalism, and the WTO at Queens College on October 4, 1999. https://www.monthlyreview.org/100tabb.htm. Accessed on January 25, 2005.
Venkat, Kumar. 2003. “Thinking Small: Globalization and the Choice of Technology.” https://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/special/2003/03thin.htm. The author was born and raised in India, and now works in Silicon Valley's high-tech industry; he writes frequently about the social impacts of technology.
Watson, James D. 1969. The Double Helix. Mentor Science.
Wilson III, Ernest J. 1998. “Globalization, Information Technology, and Conflict in the Second and Third Worlds: A Critical Literature Review.” Project on World Security. Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Inc. Accessed on July 15, 2005 over the Internet at www.rbf.org/pdf/Wilson_Info_Tech.pdf.
Wolff, George. 2001. The BioTech Investor’s Bible. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Yount, Lisa. 2000. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering. New York: Facts on Life, Inc.
Yount, Lisa. 2002a. The Ethics of Genetic Engineering. San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, Inc.
Yount, Lisa. 2002b. Genetic Engineering. San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, Inc.
Yoxen, E. 1983. The Gene Business. London: Pan.
Paul J. Dejillas, Ph.D.
August 21, 2010
The United Nations defines a cooperative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly and democratically controlled enterprise…” The cooperative movement, according to it, is one of the largest segments of civil society and plays a crucial role across a wide spectrum of human aspirations and needs, including those that concern health, housing, banking services, education, gender equality; and protection of the environment and workers’ rights. The inter-relatedness or inter-connectedness between cooperatives and sustainable development is implicit in the definition of the term “cooperative,” considering especially that sustainable development also with the same basic human aspiration and need that relate to the protection of the ecological system, global poverty, inequality, and the like.
In many existing works of literature, however, the subject of cooperatives is seldom treated in relation to sustainable development. Though many researches and studies treat the crucial role of cooperatives in economic development, the discussion is still heavily focused on the meanings, features, types, principles, mechanics, organization, structure and management, policy and legislation as well as on the various attendant services of education, research, and financial sourcing and management. In addition, the subject of cooperatives has not yet been clearly treated in relation to a broader science, which is emerging and known to some of us as “applied cosmic anthropology” --- our main interest being students of cosmic anthropology.
This is our point of departure. We depart from the conventional way of discussing cooperatives per se and view the subject from the broader perspective of sustainable development and applied cosmic anthropology. A review of the various programs as formulated by many academicians as well as practitioners would give the following conventional subjects when discussing the subject of cooperatives with students, clients, and other interested parties:
· Meanings, Concepts, Principles, and Values of Cooperativism
· History of the Cooperative Movement
· Comparative Study of Cooperative Laws and Regulations
· Cooperative Organization, Structure, and Management
· Cooperative Accounting and Budgeting
· Various Cooperative Support Services Systems: Education and Training, Research, Economics, and Financing
· Agricultural Cooperatives and the Various Phases of Production, Credit Management, Purchasing, Marketing, and Warehouse Management
· Various Types of Cooperatives: Savings, Consumer, Service, Production, and Processing Cooperatives
We shall be departing from this conventional approach to viewing cooperatives. Our concern will be how to relate the cooperativism to the objectives, principles, and major concerns of sustainable development, which is the broader context of our discussion. But we have an added concern also of viewing both cooperatives and sustainable development from the perspective of applied cosmic anthropology. Specifically, we are concerned about how we will understand the meaning of cooperativism from the cosmic perspective and the value of the insights derived therein in terms of improving our relationship with Nature and the environment as well as with each other.
The concrete objectives, therefore, that this course is trying to pursue when studying cooperatives are the following:
· To explore the meanings, aims, and principles of cooperativism from the cosmic perspective (which is the preferred view of “Applied Cosmic Anthropology”);
· To discover the principles, forces, methodologies, and approaches that govern cooperativism in the Cosmos;
· To discover the pattern of its behavior, organization, and structure; and
· To explore its form and way of governance, leadership, and style of carrying out activities.
This is our point of departure. Join me in venturing into what may still be an unknown path of studying cooperativism, not from the conventional largely economic and sociological approach, but from the pioneering cosmic perspective of looking at reality. I don’t promise you anything.
Music as a Hobby
Filipino Guitar Pieces