Assessing The Value Of Transgenic Crops

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Science And Engineering Ethics


In the current controversy about the value of transgenic crops, matters open to empirical inquiry are centrally at issue. One such matter is a key premise in a common argument (that I summarize) that transgenic crops should be considered to have universal value. The premise is that there are no alternative forms of agriculture available to enable the production of sufficient food to feed the world. The proponents of agroecology challenge it, claiming that agroecology provides an alternative, and they deny the claim that it is well founded on empirical evidence. It is, therefore, a matter of both social and scientific importance that this premise and the criticisms of it be investigated rigorously and empirically, so that the benefits and disadvantages of transgenic-intensive agriculture and agroecology can be compared in a reliable way. Conducting adequate investigation about the potential contribution of agroecology requires that the cultural conditions of its practice (and, thus, of the practices and movements of small-scale farmers in the "third world") be strengthened-and this puts the interests of investigation into tension with the socio-economic interests driving the development of transgenics. General issues about relationship between ethical argument and empirical (scientific) investigation are raised throughout the article.