Tuesday, May 13, 2003

ASPB organ Plant Physiology on agricultural ethics:
Farmers and consumers are beginning to question some technologies, especially pest control practices and genetic engineering of crops, wanting to know if they are consistent with human health, stewardship of the land, and the sustainability of the Earth's ecosystems. Low commodity prices are beneficial for consumers and safeguard our export markets, but our ecosystems and rural communities suffer from some of the policies that encourage specific agricultural practices. For example, our agricultural system relies heavily on irrigation (Fig. 1), continuous monocultures, and purchased inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, farm machinery, etc.) but ignores most of the laws that govern natural ecosystems and, by extension, also stable agro-ecosystems. Many of our practices have negative impacts on the environment: fertilizer runoff causes enormous problems in our riparian systems and our cheap meat policies (financial incentives through tax policy for concentrated animal husbandry, cheap grazing rights, and low commodity prices), also have serious negative environmental consequences. According to Zimdahl (2002): "Agriculture has been so confident in its narrow pursuit of increased production that its practitioners have frequently failed to listen to and to understand, the position of others (e.g. environmental groups, modern agrarians, organic practitioners). Agriculturalists have not taken the time to articulate any value position other than the value of production." Although production is an excellent goal, the challenge that faces us in the 21st century is to make the transition from production agriculture to agricultural sustainability. This transition will require substantial institutional innovation (Ruttan, 1999).
Pretty thoughtful summary. Also features P.B. Thompson on Value Judgments and GE crops:
Hazard identification, exposure modeling, and comparison populations each involve value judgments that are ethical or pragmatic but in either case cannot be characterized as following from established scientific findings or theories. It may be the case that many plant scientists share common views with respect to these value judgments. Nevertheless, taking different viewpoints on any of the value-oriented questions is, absent more extensive argument at least, fully consistent with taking a scientific view on the comparison of environmental risk from transgenic and conventional crops. Because of the technical sophistication implicit in the foregoing analysis, it is unlikely that the specific value judgments identified above contribute strongly to nonscientific resistance to transgenic crops. However, resolving the conceptual and definitional ambiguities noted herein, and providing a clear and straightforward rationale for such resolution, are critical to the credibility of risk assessment.
Got it?

Ok, this means that both pro- and anti- GM positions are value judgements independent of the "science" involved. In case you hadn't figured that out yet.


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