Nearly every day it seems a new study is published that underscores health risks associated with existing products and practices. Most recently, it's a pair of studies, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, that show a possible link between plastic packaging — specifically Bisphenol-A (BPA) to obesity and DEHP, a phthalate, to diabetes — and chronic health problems in kids.
Neither offers the “smoking gun” that federal regulators seem to require before they act, but what about common sense, taking steps to minimize risk wherever possible? And it is possible, because some manufacturers are already starting to use other compounds in response to consumer pressure.
But it's increasingly feeling like government and industry are operating from the premise that the price we will pay for cheap food, convenience, technology, transportation, medicine, packaging — in short, all the goodies hawked by Madison Avenue — is being bathed in a chemical cocktail from uterus to coffin. And if other species fall by the wayside, well, so be it.
As an example, a recent Time magazine article on the demise of honeybees contained this disturbing line:
There are more than 1,200 pesticides currently registered for use in the U.S.; nobody pretends that number will be coming down a lot. Instead, the honeybee and its various pests are more likley to be changed to fit into the existing agricultural system. Monsanto is working on an RNA-interference technology that can kill the Varroa mite by disrupting the way its genes are expressed. The result would be a species-specific self-destruct mechanism — a much better alternative than the toxic and often ineffective miticides beekeepers have been forced to use.
So you let the chemical companies try and “fix” the bees so they can conveniently sidestep the mounting evidence that pollen — the primary protein source for baby bees — is frequently loaded with systemic pesticides and fungicides. Is it any wonder that bees languish when they're poorly nourished and exposed to chemicals from inception, just like our kids?
Already, we learn, wild bees have pretty much died out in China due to pollution, and wild pollinators are on the ropes everywhere. Meanwhile, Harvard is experimenting with “robobees,” and there's talk that honey bees may become like the sad and literally sick “feedlot” chickens, pigs and cows that are fed a diet of GMOs and drugs, and then fed to us.
As is so typical of our species, we refuse to address the core problem and instead fixate on bandaids as mass media preps us to accept that things are going to be different, as in bye-bye biological diversity. Instead, we'll get the artificial “diversification” served up by the synthetic biology gang.
They're the ones who want to bring back extinct species even though we're still actively engaged in behaviors that are driving thousands more species over the edge. Or clone some weird thing for novelty — read money-making — purposes. Or simply because they can, and if no one is stopping them, they will.
As an article on de-extinction in National Geographic noted:
And yet for [bioethicist Hank] Greely, as for many others, the very fact that science has advanced to the point that such a spectacular fear is possible is a compelling reason to embrace de-extinction, not to shun it.
Because science, of course, never fucks up. It always leads us down the primrose path, the one where there are no unforeseen consequences, no dangerous side effects, no horrible repercussions that underscore how little we really know about how the world works, right?
Which is not to say I'm anti-science. I respect it, but I don't revere it, because it's just another human construct. And that means it's subject to all the inherent failings and flaws of the human mind and ego that conceived and direct it.
Though the National Geographic article and others frequently couch the synthetic biology/cloning/genetic engineering discussion in terms of whether we're "playing God," I don't see it like that. It's very much playing human, which means we act first and think about the consequences, the big picture, later. Much later. If at all.