Posted by: bklunk | October 10, 2006

Love Those Connections

kd10187 has a very gratifying, from a professor’s point of view, post here: connections between two courses in different disciplines.  This is pretty much the educator’s fantasy, seeing a student use what is learned in what place to deepen understanding of what is learned in another.  I can die happy now!  I bet the biology professor would say something similar.

A lot of attention of GMF sees it as a problem (ask Professor Albala in History what he thinks about “Frankenfoods.”  kd10187 is more optimistic.  What do you all think?  Are there problems with this “ideal solution”?  Let’s see more of this connecting other courses to IR. 

Disease prevention with food

       Watching the CNN documentary in class seems to have opened up everyones eyes about the poverty of the world, not only are people starving but they are dieing of preventable diseases as well. This documentary opened my eyes and ears, because today, in one of my other classes, a teacher mentioned in passing biopharming. Now being it was a biology class it is odd for me to immediatly think of international politics but here is my connective roots; biopharming is the genetic modification of seeds to contain genes that encode human antibodies. That means that by eating the food produced from these plants could help prevent disease as well as nourish those who are hungry. 
     As far fetched as the idea may be to cultivate these genetically modified plants in regions of the world that they are most needed, there are several companies that are testing pharmiceutical products in a variety of plants that may be capable of growth in areas such as the Sahara.

     When we think of getting immunized we think of going to the doctors where they take a vial out of the fridge that contains the vaccine and we get a shot.  Now, as Americans we get immunized from a variety of diseases, many of which would not kill us under common circumstances (chicken pox, the flu). But in africa and many other less developed countries people die from something as simple as the chicken pox on a daily basis. If we were able to immunize these people from such preventable diseases the death rate would decrease dramatically, but is it logical to get a refridgerated truck and drive all over africa and subject natives to shots to convince them that its good for them in the end? No, it isnt logical, nor is it cost concious, only bill gates could afford to get a truck and drive all over immunizing people, but im not sure even he could deal with all the hassel (i.e. no roads, natives who dont want shots, etc.). This is why biopharming is an ideal solution, currently, nations all over the world are trying to develop ways to help africa help itself, often providing farming tools, and techniques and even seeds, all to help decrease poverty. What if the seeds we gave them while we helped them learn efficient farming were biopharmed to contain vaccines? like every ear of corn they used to make the maize bread contained a simple hepatitus vaccination, or diptheria vaccine. Without even knowing it the people would be preventing disease just by eating. This is much more cost efficient than driving around, and not only are you immunizing people and preventing disease, but you are also decreasing the level of hunger by providing them with seeds of crops that will grow in their area, and like it is said in the documentary, seeds will provide more than enough for one family, so they will trade, then there will be need for a market, and eventually the amount of poverty in the area will decrease, all from a little seed, why not decrease disease with that little seed too?    

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  1. This concept on a whole is new to me. I have heard of genetically engineered food, to make it bigger, resistent to bugs, and help thrive better in harsher weather. But I hadn’t heard of biopharming till now. My question is how is this idea is being met around the world? There are a lot of countries out there that want nothing to do with our genetically engineered corn, so that even when we ship it, some countries refuse to take it in because it has been genetically engineered. Was biopharming introduced by the US or a company in the US or was it introduced from another country? From what it sounds like I greatly like the idea and it sounds like something that would help a lot of people who do not have access to medical facilities but do have access to agricultural fields to grow crops. I can see both sides where some countries would turn this idea down because we are playing God with food supplies and some might not think that we had done enough testing to prove it works and that it was completely safe and healthy. On the flip side of that though, if it was easy to do, and rather cheap to do as well, the benefit of such food supplies would be amazing!

  2. Amazingly as it sounds, biopharming was developed in England, one of the countries most objective of our american products. But as i said before there are some serious testing phases to be gone through before any of these “frankenfoods” should be distributed. If bio-engineered food produces side effects they are typically mild or not known for a long time (ie earlier puberty of american children is often blamed on the genetically engineered corn we feed to live stock, giving them more hormones)but the side effects of biopharmed products can be immense. If a biopharmed product is defective it can cause serious biological side effects, including but not limited to: antibiotic resistance (so regular antibiotics cannot work to defeat even the minor cold), cell neural failure (where cells can no longer communicate with the brain), and even death. As wonderful of an idea biopharming is, I personally think that it is important that we test all the possible side effects before we mass produce these plants and possibly kill off a whole population. (One perk of biopharming i fogot to mention before is that they are currently working on an HIV antibody that might be effectve because the strains would change just as rapidly in the plant as they do in the human so it may be able to temporarily prevent contraction of the disease.. one could only hope that this will work!)

  3. The problem with helping Africa, is that there is no incentive to do so (as evidenced by the world’s failure to donate even 0.07% of GDP in aid). It is a moral issue and therefore will not recieve help from realists, capitalists, or any other group with significant means. While the IMF and World Bank have LOANED billions of dollars in aid, it is highly debatable whether this has helped or harmed Africa. The main controversy lies within the fact that indebted countries are forced to spend a higher percentage of their GDP on debt repayment than on social services (see my blog for tons of info on this ( ). This has led to a call for 100% debt cancelation, which would effectively turn the loans into grants. Of course any financial institution is going loath the suggestion and either fight vehemently against the cancelation, or seek others to repay the debt. In reality, the IMF has done both, stating on their website, “a number of creditor governments have recently signaled their intention to provide additional debt reduction… total cancellation would seriously jeopardize the overall flow of financial support for the poorest countries”( ).

    The point here being that no matter what technologies, medical aids, food development plans or other initiatives are intended to help Africa, none of them will be implemented on a large enough scale to ‘help Africa help itself’ until there is incentive to do so, namely financial gain.

    A moral issue. This is the world’s mindset and the real problem Africa faces. If helping Africa were not viewed as a moral issue, more would be done. But is it anything other than that? I could sit here and list dozens of reasons to support that, yes, it is only a moral concern. But how many ideas (incentives) can we come up with that are not based on morals?

    Well, there are nearly a billion people in Africa. If they had money that would create huge markets for virtually every multi-national corporation. Theres a start. Any others?

  4. As a supplement to my last post (if it posts, I don’t see it) and a professor gratifying statement as well, let me point out that my discussion of aid to Africa links my Economics course to our International Relations course. In fact, I would say that the mission of economics runs parallel with IR’s. Both try to eplain the actions of individuals and states, both have different levels of analysis (micro and macro for econ) and both have limitations within their theories (economics works only with the assumption that people will act rationally – Terrel Owens posses a problem for that). I wonder, however, if the two can be combined into a single theory to explain better the actions of states and individuals. My hunch is that economics can be incorporated into the analysis processes of IR, but that political scientists would resist the simplicity of economics. If realism is the black and white of IR, then economics would be the pitch black and brilliant white.

    The parallels between realism and economics fascinates me. While realists suggest that individuals and states will act for the sole purpose of gaining a relative advantage, economists theorize that individuals (I have not yet taken macro, but I assume states will follow the same principals) will act only when they will gain an extra benefit. Nearly the same statment (and if fact, if reduced to mathematical terminology, they ARE the same). Realists also believe that individuals acting for the state should set aside their morals and act only for the interests of the state. Economists believe in this wholeheartedly; a CEO’s job is to increase profit so that the shareholders are satisified, often this mandates the abandonment of personal ethics. The last parallel I will mention between realism and economics is the desire for power. Realists desire power to ensure their will is the one that creates and controls policies, therby minimizing threats and maintaining security. Economists desire ever more power so that they can control markets, with the ultimate goal of creating a perfectly inelastic market (a market in which any price can be charged and demand will remain unchanged).

    I personally believe that economics is a much more ruthless way of analyzing state and individual actions, there is no room for any consideration other than beneficial gain. I also believe that realists are correct in their assessment that the most ruthless entities will be the ones to survive and control. This has created an environment (within the US, and arguably most countries) where realists ARE economist minded people and vice versa. For any good to come of this, societies need to redefine ‘profit’ (beneficial gain). Right now, profit is synonomous with money. That need not be the case. Profit can be anything that causes an individual to act. Red Cross views profit as helping homeless people eat and stay warm and Doctors Without Borders view profit as helping heal sick people. There is direct evidence of societies power of redefining profit to create change: Californian society is redefining polution externalities as profit ( ). This will eventually cause ‘green’ practices to become profitable by corporations, which will cause actions taken by individuals who represent corporations to adopt environmentally safe policies. Based on this example, it is safe to say that whatever society defines as profit will become the driving force for economists, and since economists and realsists and policy makers are one and the same, change will abound. But first, we the people must redefine profit.

  5. rarriaga is right on when he talks about the connections between IR and Econ. Both share the essential features of social science that we have talked about: attempting to answer important and interesting puzzles, looking for patterns in behavior, and using evidence systematically to test theories.

    He is also right about the connections between realism and welfare economics. In fact, Kenneth Waltz’s Neo-Realist School EXPLICITLY sees itself as an economic approach to IR theory. For Waltz, the power structure of an international system (multipolar, bipolar, hegemonic) is analogous to the structure of an economic system (perfect competition, oligopoly, monopoly). Just as firms and households will adjust their behavior depending on the structure of the market, states will adjust their behavior depending on the structure of the international system.

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