Identifying Unintended Consequences

 From 250,000-300,000 children go blind each year in Africa and Southeast Asia due to a Vitamin A deficiency. About half of those children will die within a year of going blind. White corn, the primary food source, is many of these countries is lacking in Vitamin A.

Orange corn developed at Purdue University may be the answer to this health tragedy. Orange corn was developed through a process called bio fortification to increase carotenoids in corn through a natural breeding process rather than genetic modification. Carotenoids are what give carrots their orange color. Humans then convert some of the carotenoids into Vitamin A during digestion.

While orange corn is not something to be eaten directly off the cob, it is very useful in making cornmeal, grits, polenta, cereals and other products where corn is a primary ingredient. In the United States, orange corn can be especially healthful in the making of popular snacks such as tacos, nachos, and many similar products.  In addition to its Vitamin A conversion, orange corn is more nutritious and has a nutty, buttery taste favored by many.

The introduction of a new food variety naturally causes people to ask: “Is this safe?” How might the developers of orange corn investigate any unintended consequences that the orange corn might produce? These consequences might be health related, but they could involve other possible impact areas such as agriculture, distribution, processing, etc. Some consequences might be positive as well. For example, would the introduction of orange corn as a food source for cattle lead to healthier beef products?

Unintended consequences are best identified using panels of stakeholders who represent various segments of society. This typically involves:

  • The identification of areas of society likely to be impacted
  • The identification of potential consequences to the areas of society
  • The assessment of the likelihood of those consequences
  • The assessment of the severity of those consequences
  • The development of mitigation strategies for those consequences
  • The assessment of whether the gains for eliminating the consequences outweigh the consequences themselves.

Can you imagine how we as a society might undertake a structured process for identifying in advance the consequences of change in our society? How might such a process be implemented? Can you imagine how transparent such a process should be? Can you imagine how such a process might be used in the formal or informal acceptance of change?      

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“The reason why most people face the future with apprehension instead of anticipation is because they don’t have it well designed.”  – Jim Rohn (Author)

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