Genetic Engineering: A Major Threat to Vegetarians
by Ronald Epstein, Ph.D.

Published in Vajra Bodhi Sea: A Monthly Journal of Orthodox Buddhism,
v. 23, series 55 (February, 1993), pp. 44-45.

    Imagine a world in which as part of their basic substances tomatoes contain fish and tobacco, potatoes contain chicken, moths and other insects, and corn contains fireflies. Is this science-fiction? No, these plant-animal hybrids already exist today and may soon be on your supermarket shelves without any special labeling to warn you. Furthermore, in a few years the types of these genetically engineered "vegetables" are sure to increase and may very possibly also include human genes. If you are a vegetarian, do you want to be in the position of inadvertently eating vegetables that are part meat? Even if you are not a vegetarian, are you ready to become a cannibal and eat foods that are part human being?
    Few Buddhists are aware of what genetic engineering is, the research that is being done, and the developed technologies that are now being implemented. Genes are the fundamental chemical codes that determine the physical nature of all living things, from the tiniest single-celled organisms to hman beings. When you tamper with the genes, you are tampering with the natural patterns of our world at the most basic and most dangerous level. This is extremely hzardous, and it will be difficult to escape the long-term dangers and disasters that will most certainly occur. Nonetheless, major international coroporations are now greedily scrambling for short-term profits to be gained through genetic engineering. Unfortunately, they are overlooking ethical issues and are unconcerned about the serious consequences. Governments are providing little or no regulation.
    What can we as Buddhists do about the situation? For a start, we can, in the light of the Buddhadharma, educate ourselves about what is happening. Then we can inform our givernments and elected officials and urge them to do whatever is possible to inform the public, label foods, prevent the most blatant dangers, and slow down the progress on the road toward major disaster.
    In the United States the Biotechnology Policy Center, National Wildlife Federation, 1400 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036 is a good source of information. Yet even they are unaware of fundamental Buddhist and other religious objections to genetic engineering. The United States government welcomes direct public input to help it decide policy. You can write directly to Dockets Mangement Branch, HFA 305 (Docket No. 92N-0139), Food and Drug Administration, Rm. 1-23, 12420 Parklawn Drive, Rockville, MD 20857. Senators and members of the House of Representatives can also be made aware of your concerns. I hope that readers in other countries will also become informed about this issue.

Return to "Genetic Engineering and Its Dangers."