FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Social Cost of GMOs

by

Ecological economists such as Herman Daly write that the more full the world becomes, the higher are the social or external costs of production.

Social or external costs are costs of production that are not captured in the price of the products. For example, dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico that result from chemicals used in agriculture are not included as costs in agricultural production.  The price of food does not include the damage to the Gulf.

Food production is a source of large social costs.  Indeed, it seems that the more food producers are able to lower the measured cost of food production, the higher the social costs imposed on society.

Consider the factory farming of animals. The density of operations results in a concentration of germs and in animals being fed antibiotics. Lowering the cost of food in this way contributes to the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs that will impose costs on society that will more than offset the savings from lower food prices.

Monsanto has reduced the measured cost of food production by producing genetically modified seeds that result in plants that are pest and herbicide resistant. The result is increased yields and lower measured costs of production. However, there is evidence that the social or external costs of this approach to farming more than offsets the lower measured cost.  For example, there are toxic affects on microorganisms in the soil, a decline in soil fertility and nutritional value of food, and animal and human infertility.

When Purdue University plant pathologist and soil microbiologist Don Huber pointed out

these unintended consequences of GMOs, other scientists were hesitant to support him, because their careers are dependent on research grants from agribusiness.  In other words, Monsanto essentially controls the research on its own products.

In his book, Genetic Roulette, Jeffrey M. Smith writes: “Genetically modified (GM) foods are inherently unsafe, and current safety assessments are not competent to protect us from or even identify most dangers.” The evidence is piling up against such foods; yet the US government is so totally owned by Monsanto that labeling cannot be required.

Pesticides damage birds and bees. Some years ago we learned that ingestion of pesticides by birds was bringing some species near to extinction.  If we lose bees, we lose honey and the most important pollinating agent. The rapid decline in bee populations have several causes.  Among them are the pesticides sulfoxaflor and thiamethoxam produced by Dow and Syngenta.   Dow is lobbying the Environmental Protection Agency to permit sulfoxaflor residues on food, and Syngenta wants to be able to spray alfalfa with many times the currently allowed amount of thiamethoxam.

As the regulators are more or less in the industry’s pocket, the companies will likely succeed in their efforts to further contaminate the food of people and animals.

The profits of Monsanto, Dow, and Syngenta are higher, because many of the costs associated with the production and use of their products are imposed on third parties and on life itself.

Many countries have put restrictions on GMO foods. Lawmakers in Russia equate genetically engineered foods to terrorist acts and want to impose criminal penalties.  The French parliament has approved a ban on GMO cultivation in France.  However, Washington lobbies foreign governments on behalf of its agribusiness and chemical donors.  Dick Cheney used his two terms as vice president to staff up the environmental agencies with corporate friendly executives.  Just as the political appointees at the SEC would not let SEC prosecutors bring cases against the big banks, environmental regulators have a difficult time protecting the environment and food supply from contamination. The way Washington works is that the regulators protect those they are supposed to regulate in exchange for big jobs when they leave government. The economist, George Stigler, made this clear several decades ago.

The public favors labeling of genetically engineered food, but Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association have so far been successful in preventing it. On May 8 the governor of Vermont signed a bill passed by the state legislature that requires labeling. Monsanto’s response is to sue the state of Vermont.

The opposition to labeling by agribusiness is suspicious.  It creates the impression of hiding information from the public.  Normally, this is not good public relations.  Currently, foods are mislabeled when genetically engineered food is labeled  “natural.”

Breakthroughs in science and technology allow mere humans to play God with insufficient information. The downsides of genetic engineering are unknown, and the costs could  exceed the benefits. What economists term “low cost production” might turn out to be very high cost.

Neoclassical economists do not lose sleep over external costs, because they think that there is always a solution. The way to deal with pollution is to price it so that the entity that most needs to pollute ends up with the right. Somehow this is thought to solve the problem of pollution.  Neoclassical economists think that it is impossible to run out of resources, because they believe man-made capital is a substitute for nature’s capital.  It is a fantasy world in which we become ever more productive and better off and never run out of anything.

Ecological economists see the world differently. Nature’s capital, such as mineral resources and fisheries, are being depleted, and the disposal sinks for wastes are filling up, with land, air, and water being polluted. Every act of production produces useful products and wastes. As external costs and the depletion of nature’s capital are not measured, we have no way of knowing whether an increase in output is economic or uneconomic.  All we can tell is whether the costs that are measured are covered by the price of the product.

What this means is that in a full world, neoclassical economics becomes less meaningful and is less able to contribute to our understanding of problems. It cannot even tell us whether GDP is rising or falling as we do not have a measure of the full cost of production.

For further information on these issues, see my book, The Failure Of Laissez Faire Capitalism And Economic Dissolution Of The West, and the website:  http://steadystate.org

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is How America Was Lost.

 

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail