Mill’s and Aristotle’s Views on GMOs

GMOsMIXCatherine Beachner-Honorbound

We’ve all heard about GMOs right? But do we fully understand what they are and the controversy behind it? I know I had no idea what they were until recent years when I watched the movie Food. Inc., which is a documentary film directed by Robert Kenner that examines corporate farming in America and reveals the ugly truth behind the industry’s environmentally harmful practices. Although my friends Aristotle and John Stuart Mill died years before GMOs were even introduced in the mid-1990s[1], they have some interesting opinions on the ethics behind the topic. Aristotle’s The Politics and John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism present differing views that can be applied to the controversial topic of genetically modified foods; however, I agree with Aristotle’s view which explains why the government is in the wrong for allowing the growing of GMOs and why they should ban them.

To understand the different arguments of Aristotle and Mill, one must first understand what genetically modified foods are. Today, almost all processed foods are made with GMOs. Genetic engineering is the process by which the genes from the DNA of one species is extracted and artificially forced into the genes of a different plant or animal, and genetically modified organisms are the living organisms who undergo this process. They are engineered to withstand herbicides and to produce insecticides in an attempt to increase productivity, which is solely an economic benefit. Europe has banned the use of GMOs. The United States, on the other hand, not only allows them but also does not require the labeling of foods that contain GMOs.[2] This means consumers have no way of knowing whether or not the food they are eating contains GMOs. I don’t know about you, but to me, that thought is pretty terrifying! The Non-GMO Project states, “A growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.”[3]  The United States is allowing the growth of these harmful crops in large quantities with no regard to whether or not this is a just act. Not only is the government allowing its people to ingest harmful foods, but they are also recklessly endangering the environment and its own farmers.

An argument of those who support GMOs is the belief that they help those who are suffering from hunger and malnutrition because they have the potential to provide food security. John Stuart Mill’s argument in Utilitarianism coincides with this idea in his Greatest Happiness Principle, which states that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.”[4] This means that acts that bring about happiness are considered right and good and are expected to lead to pleasure, while acts that bring about unhappiness are bad and bring about the absence of pleasure. With Mill’s idea of the greater good for the greatest amount of people, GMOs are seen as a positive because the large number of starving people can be fed with the use of genetic engineering technology. In theory, GMOs promote happiness when they are used to feed the hungry population and certainly decrease pain for those suffering from malnutrition. So, why wouldn’t everyone support GMOs to help those who are dying of starvation? Well, world hunger still has not been solved and GMOs have been around for about two decades now. Emily Cassidy, a research analysist, claims that GMOs have not improved production in any way. She writes, “Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.”[5] To me, I see no correlation between GMOs and decreasing hunger. There is virtually no benefit whatsoever from these harmful crops. In addition, there are countless negative effects of GMOs that outweigh this one potential positive effect. Here I ask myself how GMOs could possibly continue to be used?

The side that disapproves of the use of GMOs relates to Aristotle’s The Politics because of his view on the role of the government. He states that “the political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.”[6] This means the government-the political community-in relation to the food industry should promote not only having enough food for the population, but also ensure that the people are provided with safe and healthy food. America has sufficient food to provide for the whole country, so GMOs are not needed to increase productivity. An article discussing the dangers of GMOs states that “genetically modified foods have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals.”[7] In no way is this promoting the highest good for the population of a country. The government should do everything in its power to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens not knowingly allow harmful food to be grown and eaten.

Aristotle further discusses the role of the government when he says, “Governments which have a regard to the common interest are constituted in accordance with strict principles of justice, and are therefore true forms; but those which regard only the interest of the rulers are all defective and perverted forms, for they are despotic, whereas a state is a community of freemen.” [8] This explains the difference between true forms of government, which are constitutional and work for the benefit of the people, compared to their perverted counterparts, which have only the interest of the rulers in mind. According to the Non-GMO Project, most countries do not believe GMOs to be safe, and 60 countries have banned them or have strict restrictions against them.[9] These countries are just, have the common interest of all citizens in mind, and respect them. They value the health of their citizens and are helping them move towards the highest good by not risking illnesses from the fake, unnatural GMFs. Aristotle would consider these governments as true forms in regard to this one policy; however, unfortunately, the United States would fall under the perverted category because of their relaxed laws on GMOs. The Non-GMO Project also states that “in the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale.”[10] These terrible GMOs have been produced by powerful businesses for the selfish reasons of leaders of the companies who profit from this unnatural technology. A few selfish people choose to put their own needs and interests before the wellbeing of all other Americans. The country should be a community of freemen not a few people making decisions to help only themselves and leaving the majority of the country to suffer from their selfish ways. The United States should adopt the Aristotelian view on GMOs and make the health of its people its main priority.

As Aristotle states, “the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust.”[11] Through the power of speech, we can make an impact in the fight against GMOs. Even if your impact is just educating someone else on the topic, that is one less person who has no idea the injustice they are enduring. Also, you can pledge to only buy organic foods. The use of GMOs in organic foods is prohibited, so this ensures you are not ingesting these harmful foods. You can also look for foods with the “Non-GMO” label on it. Whatever you do, I highly encourage you to do your research and further your knowledge on GMOs. It’s a scary topic, but ignoring the truth will not help anything! We should take this problem seriously and do our part in the fight against GMOs.

[1] “GMO Education.” Institute for Responsible Technology. Accessed May 01, 2016.

[2] “GMO Facts.” The NonGMO Project. Accessed May 01, 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Utilitarianism.” Utilitarianism. Accessed May 01, 2016.

[5] Cassidy, Emily. “Claims of GMO Yield Increases Don’t Hold Up.” EWG. March 25, 2015. Accessed May 01, 2016.

[6] Aristotle. “The Politics Vol. 1.” Online Library of Liberty. Accessed May 01, 2016.–5.

[7] “GMO Education.” Institute for Responsible Technology. Accessed May 01, 2016.

[8] Aristotle. “The Politics Vol. 1.” Online Library of Liberty. Accessed May 01, 2016.–5.

[9] “GMO Facts.” The NonGMO Project. Accessed May 01, 2016.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Aristotle. “The Politics Vol. 1.” Online Library of Liberty. Accessed May 01, 2016.–5.

Sinberg, Stan. Genetically Modified Ignorance. JPG. August 27, 2014.

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