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#28 -- Seattle Incorporates Precaution, 8-Mar-2006

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Rachel's Precaution Reporter #28

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, March 8, 2006.............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Table of Contents...

Seattle Comprehensive Plan Incorporates Precaution
Thanks to more than two years of hard work by the Seattle
Precautionary Principle Working Group, the Seattle Comprehensive
Plan has now been amended to include reference to the precautionary
principle.
'At-Risk' Birth Register Is Possible Solution to Future Crime
As New Zealand's prisons bulge with new inmates, a retired Family
Court judge tells how potential future criminals could be helped at
birth by an 'at-risk' birth register.
In Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement Requires Precaution
A stunning new agreement, negotiated over the past 10 years, allows
millions of acres of land in Canada to be managed in accordance with
ecosystem-based guidelines, including the precautionary principle.
Does God Oppose the Precautionary Principle?
This author says the Bible reveals that God wants humans to
genetically engineer plants, so applying the precautionary principle
to genetically modified crops is a theological error.

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From: Seattle Comprehensive Plan, Mar. 5, 2006
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SEATTLE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN INCORPORATES PRECAUTION

[Here is the new language of the Introduction to the Environment
Element of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan. Its origins can be found
in a white paper on precaution by the Seattle Precautionary
Principle Working Group.]

Environment Element of Seattle's Comprehensive Plan

Introduction

Environmental stewardship is a core value of this Plan, and it plays
an integral role in guiding how the City accommodates growth and
provides services.

There are many ways the City can protect and improve the environment
while acting in its roles as a large employer, builder, land owner and
regulator. For example, the City can lead by its own behavior in
delivering services, operating its facilities and managing its land in
an environmentally sustainable manner.

When environmental goals compete with other City goals, such as those
related to economic development, the City is committed to giving just
consideration to the environmental goals to protect the functions that
natural systems can perform and to prevent harmful effects on human
health. The City will continue to engage the community about ways in
which the City can give consideration to the "precautionary
principle," which generally provides:

"Where threats of serious or irreversible harm to people or nature
exist, anticipatory action will be taken to prevent damages to human
and environmental health, even when full scientific certainty about
cause and effect is not available, with the intent of safeguarding the
quality of life of current and future generations."

This element of the Plan contains broad environmental goals and
policies. Some of the Plan's other elements include goals and policies
addressing how environmental values specifically relate to the topics
covered in those elements. For instance, the Land Use Element includes
policies governing development near environmentally critical areas
such as wetlands and stream corridors, and the Transportation Element
addresses possible environmental impacts and improvements associated
with transportation choices.

[snip]

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From: New Zealand Press Association, Mar. 7, 2006
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'AT-RISK' BIRTH REGISTER IS POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO FUTURE CRIME

By Janne Hamilton

Auckland, New Zealand -- A child in his or her first three years of
life exposed to neglect and violence may be heading straight to a life
of crime, a former Human Rights Commissioner and recently retired
district and family court judge says.

Graeme MacCormick has released a paper calling for all newborns to
be placed on a national "at-risk" register so child services can
identify which children, and their caregivers, need assistance and
support -- before it's too late.

"It is from disadvantaged children, those not given a good start in
life, that most of our young and not so young criminal offenders
come," Mr MacCormick said.

"We cannot afford more police, more court staff, more judges, more
prisons, more accident and emergency and mental health workers, more
wasted lives, than we already have."

New research by New Zealand's Brainwave Trust shows a baby's brain
is only 15 percent formed at birth, with the remaining 85 percent
being formed in the first three years.

"Neglect, violence and abuse during these years can damage normal
brain development resulting in the profound and permanent disruption
to the brain's structure, leading to lifelong social, emotional and
learning difficulties," according to website of the trust made up
doctors, educationalists, academic and business professionals.

Babies deprived of stimulating experiences and love, for example, have
been found to have brains 20-30 percent smaller than others of their
age.

According to the trust, for a baby's brain to develop, the brain cells
(neurones) need to be activated to connect up to each other -- these
connections allow basic survival functions.

The average three-year-old living in a stimulating, secure and loving
environment will have 1000 trillion of these connections.

"What the child sees, hears, touches, smells, and feels triggers
electrical activity causing neurones to mature and connections,
pathways and networks to form."

Mr MacCormick said risk factors likely to hinder a baby's brain
development includes alcohol or drug abuse by their parents or
caregivers, a history of family violence, poverty, solo-parenting and
transitoriness.

He said it was often a combination of factors that leads to an infant
being deprived of a secure, stimulating and loving environment.

"When the child is actually on the way and for the first two or three
years after it arrives...is when [parents] need maximum assistance."

Mr MacCormick said the needs/risk assessment could be done in most
cases by the health professional primarily responsible for the birth
itself.

He said if the assessment was objective and mandatory it could not be
deemed selective.

"Although there are personal information, privacy, choice and freedom
issues...the right of children to the best possible start in life and
societal benefits should and must outweigh the rights of parents and
caregivers."

Dr Simon Rowley, a neonatal paediatrician at National Women's Hospital
and Brainwave Trustee, said studies in Dunedin and Christchurch, as
well as overseas, had shown it was possible to predict who would have
a bad childhood from the time of birth onwards.

"You can look at the infants styles of interaction -- withdrawing
children who don't wish to communicate socially, constantly crying
miserable kids."

He said an at-risk national birth register was a good suggestion, but
its implementation would have to be sensitive.

"It might sound big-brotherish, but it's not saying "well we think you
are bad people", it's saying "look we know you guys are starting on
the back foot, let's push you forward"."

Dr Rowley said already established programmes -- Hippy, First Start,
-- which went into low socioeconomic pockets of society where it was
identified to be needed -- but they were only hitting a small
percentage of the population.

To reach the entire population, he said, it would need to be a
government-sponsored initiative -- and that signalled money.

Dr Rowley said similar case studies overseas have cost millions of
dollars.

Mr MacCormick acknowledged there would be high costs and a lot of
manpower needed to establish and implement an at-risk national
registry.

"[But] the costs of doing nothing are huge."

In his paper Mr MacCormick presents estimated costs of child abuse and
prison services.

In the year to June 30, 2005, Child, Youth and Family Services
received more than 53,000 abuse and neglect notifications, of which
43,000 required some follow up -- the estimated cost of child abuse,
according to Brainwave Trust, has been estimated at $393,000,000.

Mr MacCormick said approximately $54,560 was spent on a prisoner per
annum in custodial services alone -- this was before adding the costs
of preceding criminal trials.

He said there was also the uncounted costs to families and the next
generation who have spent their formative years exposed to daily
family/whanau violence.

Progressive MP Matt Robson, the former Minister of Corrections
1999-2002 said a ministerial report showed the cost to intervene a
defiant, rule-breaking five-year-old was $5,000 a case, with a 70
percent success rate.

The same behaviour by a 25-year-old cost $20,000 a case, with a
success rate of 20 percent at most.

Mr Robson said prisons reflected a lot about the country's social
needs:

"Most of our prisoners, for example, come from the pool of 530,000
adult New Zealanders who are either totally or functionally
illiterate."

Mr MacCormick said it would be better to identify "at risk" children
at or before birth, instead of waiting for them to be picked up a few
years down the track at Child, Youth and Family Services or the Youth
Court.

He proposed for those at-risk children that slipped through the cracks
at birth the assessment would catch them at specific age intervals
(two, six, 10 and 14), and would in essence be emotional,
psychological and physical health and welfare checks.

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From: The Dominion, Mar. 7, 2006
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A BEAR OF A DEAL

A decade of negotiations give way to an unprecedented agreement

By Yuill Herbert, The Dominion

In February, the Great Bear Rainforest agreement was announced in the
media around the world; the story was printed in over a thousand
newspapers, including coverage in India, Russia and China.

The agreement covers an area that represents 45 per cent of North
America's three temperate rainforest ecoregions. New parks total 1.8
million hectares -- more than three times the size of Prince Edward
Island. Another 4.6 million hectares are subject to a strict new
management regime that puts the ecosystem first.

The Great Bear Rainforest contains the world's largest tracts of
intact temperate rainforest, and it is home to spawning runs for 20
per cent of the world's remaining wild salmon. The area is so rich in
wildlife and flora that biologists have compared it to the Galapagos
Islands and the Amazon jungles. The agreement means that habitat for
endangered species including grizzlies, the total population of 400
white "spirit" bears, coastal wolves, peregrine falcons, and the
Northern Goshawk is preserved.

Unprecedented collaboration

In 1993, following protests and blockades, the British Columbia
government announced the Clayoquot compromise -- a deal that protected
33 per cent of the region, leaving the rest to be logged. The decision
sparked the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada's history;
that summer more than 850 people were arrested. First Nations were not
consulted and the communities remain divided over logging in
Clayoquot Sound.

The focus shifted to the Great Bear Rainforest with its hundreds of
pristine and intact watersheds. In a high profile international
campaign, a collaboration of environmental groups forced the customers
of the companies operating in the Great Bear Rainforest to cancel
contracts. Over 80 companies, including Ikea, Home Depot, Staples and
IBM, committed to stop selling wood and paper products made from
ancient forests.

As a result of the market pressure lumber companies on the coast began
to shift their approach and agreed to sit down with the environmental
groups.

"It was tough in the beginning, but everyone agreed in the end," says
Lisa Matthaus of the Sierra Club. "People came to accept that they no
longer had the social licence to log in the way or in the places that
they were, so it had to change."

The Joint Solutions Project was formed in 2000 as an initiative
between coastal forest companies and a coalition of environmental
groups including ForestEthics, Sierra Club of BC, Greenpeace and
Rainforest Action Network.

While a land use plan was being developed, the coastal forest industry
agreed to stop logging in exchange for a hold on the environmental
groups' market campaigns. They then agreed to create a team of
international and local scientists to create ecosystem-based
management (EBM) for the coastal forests using the best available
conservation biology. Environmental groups and industry each raised
$600,000 to support this process with provincial and federal
governments providing the remainder.

========================================================

Sidebar: Ecosystem-Based Management Guiding Principles

Ecological Integrity Is Maintained: Biological richness and the
ecosystem services provided by natural terrestrial and marine
processes are sustained at all scales through time.

Wellbeing Is Promoted: A diversity of economic opportunities is key to
healthy communities and sustainable economies.

Cultures, Communities, and Economies Are Sustained within the Context
of Healthy Ecosystems: This idea of entrenching a demand for both
human wellbeing and ecosystem integrity veers sharply away from
thinking in terms of a "trade-off" between people and the environment.

Aboriginal Rights and Title Are Recognized and Accommodated: First
Nations assert aboriginal rights and title to the lands and resources
within their territories.

The Precautionary Principle Is Applied: the proponent of change in the
ecosystem should err on the side of caution, and the onus is on the
proponent to show that ecological risk thresholds are not exceeded.

EBM Is Collaborative: Collaborative processes are broadly
participatory; respect the diverse values, traditions, and aspirations
of local communities, and incorporate the best of existing knowledge
(traditional, local, and scientific).

People Have a Fair Share of the Benefits from the Ecosystems in Which
They Live: In the past, the burdens imposed on the local communities
by externally driven activities have been greater than the benefits
the communities have received.

Source: Coast Information Team (2004): Ecosystem-based Management
Framework
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Two multi-stakeholder processes had been mandated by the province to
develop land use plans for the Great Bear Rainforest region. The Joint
Solutions Project fed the conclusions of its scientific work into this
process.

Meanwhile, but separately, the David Suzuki Foundation was working
with a group of eight coastal First Nations in an initiative called
the Turning Point to develop a set of principles for EBM. To many
coastal First Nations, EBM represents a scientific articulation of
thousands of years of cultural practice and traditional resource use.

The area that is not protected will be managed according to the EBM
process. "This is a transformation of what happens in the British
Columbia forest," Merran Smith of ForestEthics says. "The revolution
is looking at a standing forest not as a commodity, but as an economic
model based on conservation."

The BC government took the land use plans developed by the multi-
stakeholder committees and entered into unprecedented government-to-
government negotiations with the First Nations, who had developed
their own land use plans. The final outcome is a compromise between
the two parties.

"It's a cultural shift," says Shawn Kenmuir, an area manager for
Triumph Timber, which has already forsaken old clear-cut practices and
begun consulting with the Gitga'at before cutting on their traditional
lands. "We've started the transition from entitlement to
collaboration."

Many areas that will be preserved have been chosen based on the oral
tradition of native groups and the opinions of their elders. These
include areas with cultural significance such as ancient cemeteries,
or areas that contain medicinal herbs and cedars big enough to make
totem poles, canoes and longhouses.

"We are [excited]. We all [coastal First Nations] came together and
agreed to something that hasn't happened for a long time", says Ross
Wilson, chairman of the tribal council of the Heiltsuk, one of the
native nations involved.

"Now we can manage our destiny. Without this agreement, we would be
going to court forever and we would have to put our children and old
ladies dressed in button blankets in the way of the chain saws."

Transforming the economy

"For all the First Nations the value to protect the Great Bear
Rainforest is utmost, not only for cultural and environmental but also
for economic reasons," says Ross Wilson. To emphasize the economic
benefits of preservation, he adds, "The hunter comes in and pays a lot
for one night but you can never see that bear again; with wildlife
viewing, as long as that bear lives you can have tourism activities
that happen year after year."

This philosophy is supported by an innovative $120 million endowment
to support the creation of a conservation economy in the Great Bear
Rainforest. It includes: $30 million contributed by the BC government
to help ease the transition of impacted forestry workers; $60 million
raised by the US-based Nature Conservancy from donors and foundations;
and a $30 million contribution from the federal government.

The endowment includes a Coast Conservation Fund that will invest in
skills development and monitoring amongst First Nations to guarantee
the implementation of the Great Bear Agreement. A Coast Economic
Development Fund will invest in shellfish aquaculture, cruise-ship
tourism, sustainable forestry, conservation activities, fisheries,
high-end lodge tourism, and pine mushroom harvesting, potentially
creating up to 1700 new jobs.

In addition, Vancouver-based credit union VanCity will create an
innovative fund with up to $80 million dollars from socially
responsible investors for sustainable economic initiatives on the
coast.

Challenges Remain

Environmental groups acknowledge that challenges remain. It is not
clear what EBM will actually look like on the ground. A number of
First Nations groups have yet to sign government-to-government
agreements.

Both the David Suzuki Foundation and the Raincoast Conservation
Society point out that the agreement does not meet the minimum target
of 44 per cent protection that the scientific body indicated was
required to ensure that biodiversity is maintained.

"Raincoast supports the legislating of the proposed protected areas,
but the province should do so with the full knowledge and recognition
that lasting protection of the Great Bear Rainforest will require
additional steps and commitment from all parties," says Raincoast
Conservation Society's executive director, Chris Genovali.

The entire population of the spirit bear lives in the Great Bear
Rainforest photo: Forest Ethics
And, as the Globe and Mail article pointed out, if the lifting of the
oil and gas moratorium on the BC coast will mean that supertankers
loaded with tar sands oil enter the Queen Charlottes basin, then an
ecosystem that is inextricably linked with the ocean will be
endangered.

"Greenpeace will be watching to see if the British Columbian
government follows through on these commitments and takes this
opportunity to make the Great Bear Rainforest a global model of forest
sustainability," says Amanda Carr, forest campaigner for Greenpeace
Canada.

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From: Acton Institute, Mar. 5, 2006
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A THEOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR EVALUATING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

By Jordan J. Ballor

The public debate regarding genetically modified (GM) food has for the
most part been driven by practical considerations. For those on the
side of GM food, the economic and social benefits far outweigh any
possible negative consequences (if there even are any). In this vein,
Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey points out,
"With biotech corn, U.S. farmers have saved an estimated $200 million
by avoiding extra cultivation and reducing insecticide spraying. U.S.
cotton farmers have saved a similar amount and avoided spraying 2
million pounds of insecticides by switching to biotech varieties."[1]

On the other side is a group which believes the possible threats posed
by genetic engineering far outweigh the projected benefits.
Representative of this position are Martin Teitel and Kimberly Wilson,
who write, "Genetic engineering is an unasked-for technology dependent
on new and inadequately controlled techniques, and it is a technology
based on the release of organisms into the environment whose
aggressive but dimly understood reproduction threatens the entire
ecosystem."[2]

The limits of both these arguments are essentially the same: they
argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns.
While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common
sense, they are not comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.
Pragmatic considerations certainly have an important place in the
discussion, but only one posterior to ethical and theological
considerations.

The theological background of ethics is essential for this discussion,
because religious groups have begun to weigh in on the issue and lend
their moral credibility to the discussion. For example, the
Ecumenical Consultative Working Group on Genetic Engineering in
Agriculture
, a coalition comprised of members from various "mainline"
Christian denominations and para-church organizations, authored a
study which concludes, "It has yet to be demonstrated that
agricultural genetic engineering, as it exists in the current system,
safeguards the common good, human dignity, the sacredness of life and
stewardship."[3] The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility
(ICCR) has a working group which addresses the issue of GM foods.
ICCR aims to make sure GM foods are highly regulated and wants to "ban
the use of food crops to produce pharmaceutical or industrial enzymes
and chemicals."[4] So far, the majority voice of religious communities
has come out decidedly against GM foods.

The remainder of this essay will attempt to bring the focus back one
or two steps to the theological foundations for any ethical decision
about the activity of engaging in genetic modification. We will find
that, in general, a biblical-theological framework provides some
important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement
with regard to food. This theological framework will be explicitly
Christian, although to a lesser or greater extent it may find some
measure of acceptance within the broader Judeo-Christian tradition and
beyond.

I will first address the general mandate in Genesis 1 to be creative
and productive stewards, and then move on to address the effect of the
Fall and the curse in Genesis 3. Some brief observations about the
reality and implications of human salvation in Jesus Christ with an
implicit eschatological perspective will follow. I will conclude after
a short comment on the applicability of these conclusions to the issue
of genetic engineering of humans.

Creation -- Genesis 1:26-30 (NIV)

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and
let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over
the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that
move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created
him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to
them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue
it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over
every living creature that moves on the ground."

These three verses form a complex and interrelated picture of the
original state of humanity. Created in the image of God, human beings
are placed in dominion over "all the earth, and over all the creatures
that move along the ground." In this way, v. 26 speaks to the
placement of human beings as God's earthly representatives. Within the
original Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of this passage, the
language of "image-bearing" would have been immediately
understandable. When a vassal or representative of the king spoke or
acted with the authority of the king, he was said to "bear the image"
of the king, a physical representation of the king and his authority.
Verse 27 narrates the creation of human beings alluded to in the
previous verse, and the placement as God's image-bearers,
representatives of the divine King.

There are, of course, no rights or privileges without responsibility,
so on the heels of the creation of human beings and their placement in
dominion, we find the corresponding responsibilities and blessings
laid out in v. 28. Verse 28 is most often understood in terms of
"stewardship," and here again we run up against the political and
social structure of the ANE. A steward was one who was in charge of a
household or kingdom during the ruler's absence. Humans, in exercising
their exalted place of stewardship, are to be productive and creative
rulers of the earth. This is the norm of human existence and the
standard to which we are called.

29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of
the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They
will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all
the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground -
everything that has the breath of life in it -- I give every green
plant for food." And it was so.

Verses 29 and 30 are not usually included in an examination of the
previous three verses, but given the topic under discussion they could
hardly be excluded. Indeed, we see here that the plants are originally
given and intended to provide for the life of the rest of creation,
especially those creatures with the "breath of life." The original
purpose for plants was to be food for humans (and animals) and in this
way to sustain life. This will become important as we deal with the
implications of sin and the Fall on creation.

Fall -- Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)

17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from
the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,"
"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will
eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and
thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the
sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the
ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you
will return."

Because of the sin of the first couple, we have here in these verses a
portion of the curse for violation of God's command. The effect here
primarily is pointed toward the earth and the ground, out of which the
plants in Gen. 1:29-30 grow. Humans are bound to the earth and
plantlife for their survival because of the relationship God sets up
in Gen. 1:29-30, but because of the Fall this previously harmonious
relationship is changed into opposition. After the Fall, plants no
longer function in the way they were intended at creation. Now plants
will only sustain human life through difficult labor. Humans must work
to bring out the life-giving power of plants to sustain themselves.
Luther, in his commentary on these verses of Genesis, writes that
because of this curse, the earth "does not bring forth the good things
it would have produced if man had not fallen.... It produces many
harmful plants, which it would not have produced, such as darnel, wild
oats, weeds, nettles, thorns, thistles. Add to these the poisons, the
injurious vermin, and whatever else there is of this kind. All of
these were brought in through sin."[5]

Redemption and Consummation

Luther also notes, along with Paul, that "the creation was subjected
to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who
subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from
its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the
children of God" (Romans 8:20-21 NIV).[6] Here we have a hint at the
reversal of the curse on the human-earth relationship. Paul continues
in this section to address the "firstfruits of the Spirit" which
believers have received after the life, death, and resurrection of
Jesus Christ. Our task as believers is to bear witness to the saving
work of Jesus Christ. This work has begun to reverse the effects of
sin and the curse, first and especially in the lives of believers, but
also through the grateful work of believers, who are seeking to live
up to their calling as faithful stewards.

The original purpose of plants was to provide sustenance for life, as
is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in
view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to
realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. Genetic
modification of food can be a worthy human endeavor within the context
of the created purpose of plant life to provide sustenance for human
beings. It is interesting to note that many of the groups which oppose
genetic modification of food also (rightly) decry the phenomenon of
starvation in various parts of the world. As Ronald Bailey notes, "If
the activists are successful in their war against green biotech, it's
the world's poor who will suffer most. The International Food Policy
Research Institute estimates that global food production must increase
by 40 percent in the next 20 years to meet the goal of a better and
more varied diet for a world population of some 8 billion people."

The creation needs to be cultivated in such a way as to support and
sustain human life. To do so efficiently is prudent, and genetic
modification of food, like irrigation channels, plows, and mechanized
tractors, is yet another technology that attempts to bring out of the
land in some small measure its created bounty. Genetic modification
changes nature at a more minute level, but such changes aren't
materially different than any of the other various environmental or
technological modifications that farmers have been making use of for
millennia.

Human Genetic Modification

There is sometimes a sort of negative visceral reaction to talk about
genetic modification of any sort. This is due in large part to the
fear of a reprisal of Nazi eugenics or some other sort of gene
modification program which goes to the very center of who we are as
human beings. It is at this point I would like to make a brief
observation regarding the applicability of my above arguments to any
form of gene modification of humans, cloning, or stem cell research.
To put it bluntly: these arguments aren't applicable.

In the above discussion, I've been talking about the earth in general,
but plants in particular. Of special note has been the created purpose
of plants to provide for the sustenance of beings with the "breath of
life." We have briefly touched on the doctrine of the image of God, or
the imago Dei. It is this doctrine which I believe invalidates any
facile application of arguments for genetic modification of plants to
an argument for the genetic modification of humans. Quite simply,
human beings, as God's image-bearers, are placed in a position of
unique authority over creation, but also bear in themselves inherent
dignity which places the worth of human beings as far greater than
that of plants, or even animals. This doesn't devalue the rest of
creation; but it rightly orders creation with humanity at its head.
This inherent value of the human person is what Jesus points to when
he states, "you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:31
NIV). It must suffice here to say that a well-formed and comprehensive
doctrine of the imago Dei precludes the argument from the purpose of
plants to be applied in a similar fashion to human beings. This should
at least partially assuage some of the fears of those who impulsively
reject all arguments in favor of gene modification.

Conclusion

In the above sections I have briefly sketched out an overview of a
biblical-theological framework from which to view the particular
arguments in favor of and opposed to genetically modified foods. In
general, we can observe that the default position in this regard
should not be simply to maintain the status quo of a fallen creation.
The ICCR argues on a misuse of the precautionary principle that no
genetically modified food should be made available until long-term
independent safety testing shows that it is safe for health and the
environment. Instead, the default position should be in favor of
innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively
increasing the fruitfulness of the earth, and the burden of proof
should be to prove that it is unsafe.

We have also seen that gene modification has the possibility of
working to reverse the effects of the curse in Gen. 3, which should
temper the concerns of the Ecumenical Consultative Working Group on
Genetic Engineering in Agriculture about "the common good, human
dignity, the sacredness of life and stewardship." Concerns in these
areas, informed by this theological framework, would in fact lead us
to be in favor of gene modification for plants.

Does this mean that we should abandon all regulation of any sort and
simply allow whatever is new and better to run free until devastating
consequences become apparent? Absolutely not. The Fall affects human
beings as well as the rest of creation, and even regenerate human
beings are fallible and capable of horrible errors. What I'm arguing
for instead is a dialogue informed by the theological realities of
fallen creaturely existence and by which we can begin to measure some
of the claims both for and against genetically modified foods. Only
when the reality of the created purpose of food and humankind's role
in making plant life fruitful is realized will the pragmatic
discussion on genetically modified food be appropriately framed.

Jordan Ballor is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Markets &
Morality


[1] Ronald Bailey, "Dr. Strangelunch," available at:
http://www.abetterearth.org/subcategory.php/194.html

[2] Martin Teitel and Kimberly Wilson, "What the Future Holds," in
Genetically Engineered Food: Changing the Nature of Nature (Rochester,
Vermont: Park Street Press, 2001)

[3] "Faith-Based Conceptual Framework on Genetic Engineering in
Agriculture," available at:
http://www.ncrlc.com/ge-ag-webpages/ge-ag-forum-statement.html

[4] "Goals and Objectives," available at:
http://www.iccr.org/issues/waterfood/goalsobjectives.php

[5] Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. J. J.
Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, vol. 1, Luther's Works (Saint
Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 204.

[6] Cf. Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 204.

Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
161 Ottawa NW, Ste. 301, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

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Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in
action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making
decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to
answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary
principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we
believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed
to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary
principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle --
please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

Editors:
Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
Tim Montague - tim@rachel.org

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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #28 "Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World" Wednesday, March 8, 2006.............Printer-friendly version www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Table of Contents...

Seattle Comprehensive Plan Incorporates Precaution
Thanks to more than two years of hard work by the Seattle
Precautionary Principle Working Group, the Seattle Comprehensive
Plan has now been amended to include reference to the precautionary
principle.
'At-Risk' Birth Register Is Possible Solution to Future Crime
As New Zealand's prisons bulge with new inmates, a retired Family
Court judge tells how potential future criminals could be helped at
birth by an 'at-risk' birth register.
In Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement Requires Precaution
A stunning new agreement, negotiated over the past 10 years, allows
millions of acres of land in Canada to be managed in accordance with
ecosystem-based guidelines, including the precautionary principle.
Does God Oppose the Precautionary Principle?
This author says the Bible reveals that God wants humans to
genetically engineer plants, so applying the precautionary principle
to genetically modified crops is a theological error.

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From: Seattle Comprehensive Plan, Mar. 5, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

SEATTLE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN INCORPORATES PRECAUTION

[Here is the new language of the Introduction to the Environment
Element of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan. Its origins can be found
in a white paper on precaution by the Seattle Precautionary
Principle Working Group.]

Environment Element of Seattle's Comprehensive Plan

Introduction

Environmental stewardship is a core value of this Plan, and it plays
an integral role in guiding how the City accommodates growth and
provides services.

There are many ways the City can protect and improve the environment
while acting in its roles as a large employer, builder, land owner and
regulator. For example, the City can lead by its own behavior in
delivering services, operating its facilities and managing its land in
an environmentally sustainable manner.

When environmental goals compete with other City goals, such as those
related to economic development, the City is committed to giving just
consideration to the environmental goals to protect the functions that
natural systems can perform and to prevent harmful effects on human
health. The City will continue to engage the community about ways in
which the City can give consideration to the "precautionary
principle," which generally provides:

"Where threats of serious or irreversible harm to people or nature
exist, anticipatory action will be taken to prevent damages to human
and environmental health, even when full scientific certainty about
cause and effect is not available, with the intent of safeguarding the
quality of life of current and future generations."

This element of the Plan contains broad environmental goals and
policies. Some of the Plan's other elements include goals and policies
addressing how environmental values specifically relate to the topics
covered in those elements. For instance, the Land Use Element includes
policies governing development near environmentally critical areas
such as wetlands and stream corridors, and the Transportation Element
addresses possible environmental impacts and improvements associated
with transportation choices.

[snip]

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From: New Zealand Press Association, Mar. 7, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

'AT-RISK' BIRTH REGISTER IS POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO FUTURE CRIME

By Janne Hamilton

Auckland, New Zealand -- A child in his or her first three years of
life exposed to neglect and violence may be heading straight to a life
of crime, a former Human Rights Commissioner and recently retired
district and family court judge says.

Graeme MacCormick has released a paper calling for all newborns to
be placed on a national "at-risk" register so child services can
identify which children, and their caregivers, need assistance and
support -- before it's too late.

"It is from disadvantaged children, those not given a good start in
life, that most of our young and not so young criminal offenders
come," Mr MacCormick said.

"We cannot afford more police, more court staff, more judges, more
prisons, more accident and emergency and mental health workers, more
wasted lives, than we already have."

New research by New Zealand's Brainwave Trust shows a baby's brain
is only 15 percent formed at birth, with the remaining 85 percent
being formed in the first three years.

"Neglect, violence and abuse during these years can damage normal
brain development resulting in the profound and permanent disruption
to the brain's structure, leading to lifelong social, emotional and
learning difficulties," according to website of the trust made up
doctors, educationalists, academic and business professionals.

Babies deprived of stimulating experiences and love, for example, have
been found to have brains 20-30 percent smaller than others of their
age.

According to the trust, for a baby's brain to develop, the brain cells
(neurones) need to be activated to connect up to each other -- these
connections allow basic survival functions.

The average three-year-old living in a stimulating, secure and loving
environment will have 1000 trillion of these connections.

"What the child sees, hears, touches, smells, and feels triggers
electrical activity causing neurones to mature and connections,
pathways and networks to form."

Mr MacCormick said risk factors likely to hinder a baby's brain
development includes alcohol or drug abuse by their parents or
caregivers, a history of family violence, poverty, solo-parenting and
transitoriness.

He said it was often a combination of factors that leads to an infant
being deprived of a secure, stimulating and loving environment.

"When the child is actually on the way and for the first two or three
years after it arrives...is when [parents] need maximum assistance."

Mr MacCormick said the needs/risk assessment could be done in most
cases by the health professional primarily responsible for the birth
itself.

He said if the assessment was objective and mandatory it could not be
deemed selective.

"Although there are personal information, privacy, choice and freedom
issues...the right of children to the best possible start in life and
societal benefits should and must outweigh the rights of parents and
caregivers."

Dr Simon Rowley, a neonatal paediatrician at National Women's Hospital
and Brainwave Trustee, said studies in Dunedin and Christchurch, as
well as overseas, had shown it was possible to predict who would have
a bad childhood from the time of birth onwards.

"You can look at the infants styles of interaction -- withdrawing
children who don't wish to communicate socially, constantly crying
miserable kids."

He said an at-risk national birth register was a good suggestion, but
its implementation would have to be sensitive.

"It might sound big-brotherish, but it's not saying "well we think you
are bad people", it's saying "look we know you guys are starting on
the back foot, let's push you forward"."

Dr Rowley said already established programmes -- Hippy, First Start,
-- which went into low socioeconomic pockets of society where it was
identified to be needed -- but they were only hitting a small
percentage of the population.

To reach the entire population, he said, it would need to be a
government-sponsored initiative -- and that signalled money.

Dr Rowley said similar case studies overseas have cost millions of
dollars.

Mr MacCormick acknowledged there would be high costs and a lot of
manpower needed to establish and implement an at-risk national
registry.

"[But] the costs of doing nothing are huge."

In his paper Mr MacCormick presents estimated costs of child abuse and
prison services.

In the year to June 30, 2005, Child, Youth and Family Services
received more than 53,000 abuse and neglect notifications, of which
43,000 required some follow up -- the estimated cost of child abuse,
according to Brainwave Trust, has been estimated at $393,000,000.

Mr MacCormick said approximately $54,560 was spent on a prisoner per
annum in custodial services alone -- this was before adding the costs
of preceding criminal trials.

He said there was also the uncounted costs to families and the next
generation who have spent their formative years exposed to daily
family/whanau violence.

Progressive MP Matt Robson, the former Minister of Corrections
1999-2002 said a ministerial report showed the cost to intervene a
defiant, rule-breaking five-year-old was $5,000 a case, with a 70
percent success rate.

The same behaviour by a 25-year-old cost $20,000 a case, with a
success rate of 20 percent at most.

Mr Robson said prisons reflected a lot about the country's social
needs:

"Most of our prisoners, for example, come from the pool of 530,000
adult New Zealanders who are either totally or functionally
illiterate."

Mr MacCormick said it would be better to identify "at risk" children
at or before birth, instead of waiting for them to be picked up a few
years down the track at Child, Youth and Family Services or the Youth
Court.

He proposed for those at-risk children that slipped through the cracks
at birth the assessment would catch them at specific age intervals
(two, six, 10 and 14), and would in essence be emotional,
psychological and physical health and welfare checks.

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From: The Dominion, Mar. 7, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

A BEAR OF A DEAL

A decade of negotiations give way to an unprecedented agreement

By Yuill Herbert, The Dominion

In February, the Great Bear Rainforest agreement was announced in the
media around the world; the story was printed in over a thousand
newspapers, including coverage in India, Russia and China.

The agreement covers an area that represents 45 per cent of North
America's three temperate rainforest ecoregions. New parks total 1.8
million hectares -- more than three times the size of Prince Edward
Island. Another 4.6 million hectares are subject to a strict new
management regime that puts the ecosystem first.

The Great Bear Rainforest contains the world's largest tracts of
intact temperate rainforest, and it is home to spawning runs for 20
per cent of the world's remaining wild salmon. The area is so rich in
wildlife and flora that biologists have compared it to the Galapagos
Islands and the Amazon jungles. The agreement means that habitat for
endangered species including grizzlies, the total population of 400
white "spirit" bears, coastal wolves, peregrine falcons, and the
Northern Goshawk is preserved.

Unprecedented collaboration

In 1993, following protests and blockades, the British Columbia
government announced the Clayoquot compromise -- a deal that protected
33 per cent of the region, leaving the rest to be logged. The decision
sparked the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada's history;
that summer more than 850 people were arrested. First Nations were not
consulted and the communities remain divided over logging in
Clayoquot Sound.

The focus shifted to the Great Bear Rainforest with its hundreds of
pristine and intact watersheds. In a high profile international
campaign, a collaboration of environmental groups forced the customers
of the companies operating in the Great Bear Rainforest to cancel
contracts. Over 80 companies, including Ikea, Home Depot, Staples and
IBM, committed to stop selling wood and paper products made from
ancient forests.

As a result of the market pressure lumber companies on the coast began
to shift their approach and agreed to sit down with the environmental
groups.

"It was tough in the beginning, but everyone agreed in the end," says
Lisa Matthaus of the Sierra Club. "People came to accept that they no
longer had the social licence to log in the way or in the places that
they were, so it had to change."

The Joint Solutions Project was formed in 2000 as an initiative
between coastal forest companies and a coalition of environmental
groups including ForestEthics, Sierra Club of BC, Greenpeace and
Rainforest Action Network.

While a land use plan was being developed, the coastal forest industry
agreed to stop logging in exchange for a hold on the environmental
groups' market campaigns. They then agreed to create a team of
international and local scientists to create ecosystem-based
management (EBM) for the coastal forests using the best available
conservation biology. Environmental groups and industry each raised
$600,000 to support this process with provincial and federal
governments providing the remainder.

========================================================

Sidebar: Ecosystem-Based Management Guiding Principles

Ecological Integrity Is Maintained: Biological richness and the
ecosystem services provided by natural terrestrial and marine
processes are sustained at all scales through time.

Wellbeing Is Promoted: A diversity of economic opportunities is key to
healthy communities and sustainable economies.

Cultures, Communities, and Economies Are Sustained within the Context
of Healthy Ecosystems: This idea of entrenching a demand for both
human wellbeing and ecosystem integrity veers sharply away from
thinking in terms of a "trade-off" between people and the environment.

Aboriginal Rights and Title Are Recognized and Accommodated: First
Nations assert aboriginal rights and title to the lands and resources
within their territories.

The Precautionary Principle Is Applied: the proponent of change in the
ecosystem should err on the side of caution, and the onus is on the
proponent to show that ecological risk thresholds are not exceeded.

EBM Is Collaborative: Collaborative processes are broadly
participatory; respect the diverse values, traditions, and aspirations
of local communities, and incorporate the best of existing knowledge
(traditional, local, and scientific).

People Have a Fair Share of the Benefits from the Ecosystems in Which
They Live: In the past, the burdens imposed on the local communities
by externally driven activities have been greater than the benefits
the communities have received.

Source: Coast Information Team (2004): Ecosystem-based Management
Framework
.

========================================================

Two multi-stakeholder processes had been mandated by the province to
develop land use plans for the Great Bear Rainforest region. The Joint
Solutions Project fed the conclusions of its scientific work into this
process.

Meanwhile, but separately, the David Suzuki Foundation was working
with a group of eight coastal First Nations in an initiative called
the Turning Point to develop a set of principles for EBM. To many
coastal First Nations, EBM represents a scientific articulation of
thousands of years of cultural practice and traditional resource use.

The area that is not protected will be managed according to the EBM
process. "This is a transformation of what happens in the British
Columbia forest," Merran Smith of ForestEthics says. "The revolution
is looking at a standing forest not as a commodity, but as an economic
model based on conservation."

The BC government took the land use plans developed by the multi-
stakeholder committees and entered into unprecedented government-to-
government negotiations with the First Nations, who had developed
their own land use plans. The final outcome is a compromise between
the two parties.

"It's a cultural shift," says Shawn Kenmuir, an area manager for
Triumph Timber, which has already forsaken old clear-cut practices and
begun consulting with the Gitga'at before cutting on their traditional
lands. "We've started the transition from entitlement to
collaboration."

Many areas that will be preserved have been chosen based on the oral
tradition of native groups and the opinions of their elders. These
include areas with cultural significance such as ancient cemeteries,
or areas that contain medicinal herbs and cedars big enough to make
totem poles, canoes and longhouses.

"We are [excited]. We all [coastal First Nations] came together and
agreed to something that hasn't happened for a long time", says Ross
Wilson, chairman of the tribal council of the Heiltsuk, one of the
native nations involved.

"Now we can manage our destiny. Without this agreement, we would be
going to court forever and we would have to put our children and old
ladies dressed in button blankets in the way of the chain saws."

Transforming the economy

"For all the First Nations the value to protect the Great Bear
Rainforest is utmost, not only for cultural and environmental but also
for economic reasons," says Ross Wilson. To emphasize the economic
benefits of preservation, he adds, "The hunter comes in and pays a lot
for one night but you can never see that bear again; with wildlife
viewing, as long as that bear lives you can have tourism activities
that happen year after year."

This philosophy is supported by an innovative $120 million endowment
to support the creation of a conservation economy in the Great Bear
Rainforest. It includes: $30 million contributed by the BC government
to help ease the transition of impacted forestry workers; $60 million
raised by the US-based Nature Conservancy from donors and foundations;
and a $30 million contribution from the federal government.

The endowment includes a Coast Conservation Fund that will invest in
skills development and monitoring amongst First Nations to guarantee
the implementation of the Great Bear Agreement. A Coast Economic
Development Fund will invest in shellfish aquaculture, cruise-ship
tourism, sustainable forestry, conservation activities, fisheries,
high-end lodge tourism, and pine mushroom harvesting, potentially
creating up to 1700 new jobs.

In addition, Vancouver-based credit union VanCity will create an
innovative fund with up to $80 million dollars from socially
responsible investors for sustainable economic initiatives on the
coast.

Challenges Remain

Environmental groups acknowledge that challenges remain. It is not
clear what EBM will actually look like on the ground. A number of
First Nations groups have yet to sign government-to-government
agreements.

Both the David Suzuki Foundation and the Raincoast Conservation
Society point out that the agreement does not meet the minimum target
of 44 per cent protection that the scientific body indicated was
required to ensure that biodiversity is maintained.

"Raincoast supports the legislating of the proposed protected areas,
but the province should do so with the full knowledge and recognition
that lasting protection of the Great Bear Rainforest will require
additional steps and commitment from all parties," says Raincoast
Conservation Society's executive director, Chris Genovali.

The entire population of the spirit bear lives in the Great Bear
Rainforest photo: Forest Ethics
And, as the Globe and Mail article pointed out, if the lifting of the
oil and gas moratorium on the BC coast will mean that supertankers
loaded with tar sands oil enter the Queen Charlottes basin, then an
ecosystem that is inextricably linked with the ocean will be
endangered.

"Greenpeace will be watching to see if the British Columbian
government follows through on these commitments and takes this
opportunity to make the Great Bear Rainforest a global model of forest
sustainability," says Amanda Carr, forest campaigner for Greenpeace
Canada.

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From: Acton Institute, Mar. 5, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

A THEOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR EVALUATING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

By Jordan J. Ballor

The public debate regarding genetically modified (GM) food has for the
most part been driven by practical considerations. For those on the
side of GM food, the economic and social benefits far outweigh any
possible negative consequences (if there even are any). In this vein,
Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey points out,
"With biotech corn, U.S. farmers have saved an estimated $200 million
by avoiding extra cultivation and reducing insecticide spraying. U.S.
cotton farmers have saved a similar amount and avoided spraying 2
million pounds of insecticides by switching to biotech varieties."[1]

On the other side is a group which believes the possible threats posed
by genetic engineering far outweigh the projected benefits.
Representative of this position are Martin Teitel and Kimberly Wilson,
who write, "Genetic engineering is an unasked-for technology dependent
on new and inadequately controlled techniques, and it is a technology
based on the release of organisms into the environment whose
aggressive but dimly understood reproduction threatens the entire
ecosystem."[2]

The limits of both these arguments are essentially the same: they
argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns.
While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common
sense, they are not comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.
Pragmatic considerations certainly have an important place in the
discussion, but only one posterior to ethical and theological
considerations.

The theological background of ethics is essential for this discussion,
because religious groups have begun to weigh in on the issue and lend
their moral credibility to the discussion. For example, the
Ecumenical Consultative Working Group on Genetic Engineering in
Agriculture
, a coalition comprised of members from various "mainline"
Christian denominations and para-church organizations, authored a
study which concludes, "It has yet to be demonstrated that
agricultural genetic engineering, as it exists in the current system,
safeguards the common good, human dignity, the sacredness of life and
stewardship."[3] The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility
(ICCR) has a working group which addresses the issue of GM foods.
ICCR aims to make sure GM foods are highly regulated and wants to "ban
the use of food crops to produce pharmaceutical or industrial enzymes
and chemicals."[4] So far, the majority voice of religious communities
has come out decidedly against GM foods.

The remainder of this essay will attempt to bring the focus back one
or two steps to the theological foundations for any ethical decision
about the activity of engaging in genetic modification. We will find
that, in general, a biblical-theological framework provides some
important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement
with regard to food. This theological framework will be explicitly
Christian, although to a lesser or greater extent it may find some
measure of acceptance within the broader Judeo-Christian tradition and
beyond.

I will first address the general mandate in Genesis 1 to be creative
and productive stewards, and then move on to address the effect of the
Fall and the curse in Genesis 3. Some brief observations about the
reality and implications of human salvation in Jesus Christ with an
implicit eschatological perspective will follow. I will conclude after
a short comment on the applicability of these conclusions to the issue
of genetic engineering of humans.

Creation -- Genesis 1:26-30 (NIV)

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and
let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over
the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that
move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created
him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to
them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue
it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over
every living creature that moves on the ground."

These three verses form a complex and interrelated picture of the
original state of humanity. Created in the image of God, human beings
are placed in dominion over "all the earth, and over all the creatures
that move along the ground." In this way, v. 26 speaks to the
placement of human beings as God's earthly representatives. Within the
original Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of this passage, the
language of "image-bearing" would have been immediately
understandable. When a vassal or representative of the king spoke or
acted with the authority of the king, he was said to "bear the image"
of the king, a physical representation of the king and his authority.
Verse 27 narrates the creation of human beings alluded to in the
previous verse, and the placement as God's image-bearers,
representatives of the divine King.

There are, of course, no rights or privileges without responsibility,
so on the heels of the creation of human beings and their placement in
dominion, we find the corresponding responsibilities and blessings
laid out in v. 28. Verse 28 is most often understood in terms of
"stewardship," and here again we run up against the political and
social structure of the ANE. A steward was one who was in charge of a
household or kingdom during the ruler's absence. Humans, in exercising
their exalted place of stewardship, are to be productive and creative
rulers of the earth. This is the norm of human existence and the
standard to which we are called.

29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of
the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They
will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all
the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground -
everything that has the breath of life in it -- I give every green
plant for food." And it was so.

Verses 29 and 30 are not usually included in an examination of the
previous three verses, but given the topic under discussion they could
hardly be excluded. Indeed, we see here that the plants are originally
given and intended to provide for the life of the rest of creation,
especially those creatures with the "breath of life." The original
purpose for plants was to be food for humans (and animals) and in this
way to sustain life. This will become important as we deal with the
implications of sin and the Fall on creation.

Fall -- Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)

17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from
the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,"
"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will
eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and
thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the
sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the
ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you
will return."

Because of the sin of the first couple, we have here in these verses a
portion of the curse for violation of God's command. The effect here
primarily is pointed toward the earth and the ground, out of which the
plants in Gen. 1:29-30 grow. Humans are bound to the earth and
plantlife for their survival because of the relationship God sets up
in Gen. 1:29-30, but because of the Fall this previously harmonious
relationship is changed into opposition. After the Fall, plants no
longer function in the way they were intended at creation. Now plants
will only sustain human life through difficult labor. Humans must work
to bring out the life-giving power of plants to sustain themselves.
Luther, in his commentary on these verses of Genesis, writes that
because of this curse, the earth "does not bring forth the good things
it would have produced if man had not fallen.... It produces many
harmful plants, which it would not have produced, such as darnel, wild
oats, weeds, nettles, thorns, thistles. Add to these the poisons, the
injurious vermin, and whatever else there is of this kind. All of
these were brought in through sin."[5]

Redemption and Consummation

Luther also notes, along with Paul, that "the creation was subjected
to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who
subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from
its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the
children of God" (Romans 8:20-21 NIV).[6] Here we have a hint at the
reversal of the curse on the human-earth relationship. Paul continues
in this section to address the "firstfruits of the Spirit" which
believers have received after the life, death, and resurrection of
Jesus Christ. Our task as believers is to bear witness to the saving
work of Jesus Christ. This work has begun to reverse the effects of
sin and the curse, first and especially in the lives of believers, but
also through the grateful work of believers, who are seeking to live
up to their calling as faithful stewards.

The original purpose of plants was to provide sustenance for life, as
is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in
view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to
realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. Genetic
modification of food can be a worthy human endeavor within the context
of the created purpose of plant life to provide sustenance for human
beings. It is interesting to note that many of the groups which oppose
genetic modification of food also (rightly) decry the phenomenon of
starvation in various parts of the world. As Ronald Bailey notes, "If
the activists are successful in their war against green biotech, it's
the world's poor who will suffer most. The International Food Policy
Research Institute estimates that global food production must increase
by 40 percent in the next 20 years to meet the goal of a better and
more varied diet for a world population of some 8 billion people."

The creation needs to be cultivated in such a way as to support and
sustain human life. To do so efficiently is prudent, and genetic
modification of food, like irrigation channels, plows, and mechanized
tractors, is yet another technology that attempts to bring out of the
land in some small measure its created bounty. Genetic modification
changes nature at a more minute level, but such changes aren't
materially different than any of the other various environmental or
technological modifications that farmers have been making use of for
millennia.

Human Genetic Modification

There is sometimes a sort of negative visceral reaction to talk about
genetic modification of any sort. This is due in large part to the
fear of a reprisal of Nazi eugenics or some other sort of gene
modification program which goes to the very center of who we are as
human beings. It is at this point I would like to make a brief
observation regarding the applicability of my above arguments to any
form of gene modification of humans, cloning, or stem cell research.
To put it bluntly: these arguments aren't applicable.

In the above discussion, I've been talking about the earth in general,
but plants in particular. Of special note has been the created purpose
of plants to provide for the sustenance of beings with the "breath of
life." We have briefly touched on the doctrine of the image of God, or
the imago Dei. It is this doctrine which I believe invalidates any
facile application of arguments for genetic modification of plants to
an argument for the genetic modification of humans. Quite simply,
human beings, as God's image-bearers, are placed in a position of
unique authority over creation, but also bear in themselves inherent
dignity which places the worth of human beings as far greater than
that of plants, or even animals. This doesn't devalue the rest of
creation; but it rightly orders creation with humanity at its head.
This inherent value of the human person is what Jesus points to when
he states, "you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:31
NIV). It must suffice here to say that a well-formed and comprehensive
doctrine of the imago Dei precludes the argument from the purpose of
plants to be applied in a similar fashion to human beings. This should
at least partially assuage some of the fears of those who impulsively
reject all arguments in favor of gene modification.

Conclusion

In the above sections I have briefly sketched out an overview of a
biblical-theological framework from which to view the particular
arguments in favor of and opposed to genetically modified foods. In
general, we can observe that the default position in this regard
should not be simply to maintain the status quo of a fallen creation.
The ICCR argues on a misuse of the precautionary principle that no
genetically modified food should be made available until long-term
independent safety testing shows that it is safe for health and the
environment. Instead, the default position should be in favor of
innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively
increasing the fruitfulness of the earth, and the burden of proof
should be to prove that it is unsafe.

We have also seen that gene modification has the possibility of
working to reverse the effects of the curse in Gen. 3, which should
temper the concerns of the Ecumenical Consultative Working Group on
Genetic Engineering in Agriculture about "the common good, human
dignity, the sacredness of life and stewardship." Concerns in these
areas, informed by this theological framework, would in fact lead us
to be in favor of gene modification for plants.

Does this mean that we should abandon all regulation of any sort and
simply allow whatever is new and better to run free until devastating
consequences become apparent? Absolutely not. The Fall affects human
beings as well as the rest of creation, and even regenerate human
beings are fallible and capable of horrible errors. What I'm arguing
for instead is a dialogue informed by the theological realities of
fallen creaturely existence and by which we can begin to measure some
of the claims both for and against genetically modified foods. Only
when the reality of the created purpose of food and humankind's role
in making plant life fruitful is realized will the pragmatic
discussion on genetically modified food be appropriately framed.

Jordan Ballor is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Markets &
Morality


[1] Ronald Bailey, "Dr. Strangelunch," available at:
http://www.abetterearth.org/subcategory.php/194.html

[2] Martin Teitel and Kimberly Wilson, "What the Future Holds," in
Genetically Engineered Food: Changing the Nature of Nature (Rochester,
Vermont: Park Street Press, 2001)

[3] "Faith-Based Conceptual Framework on Genetic Engineering in
Agriculture," available at:
http://www.ncrlc.com/ge-ag-webpages/ge-ag-forum-statement.html

[4] "Goals and Objectives," available at:
http://www.iccr.org/issues/waterfood/goalsobjectives.php

[5] Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. J. J.
Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, vol. 1, Luther's Works (Saint
Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 204.

[6] Cf. Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 204.

Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
161 Ottawa NW, Ste. 301, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

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