• Gary L. Comstock


Agricultural biotechnology refers to a diverse set of industrial techniques used to produce genetically modified foods. Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods manipulated at the molecular level to enhance their value to farmers and consumers. This book is a collection of essays on the ethical dimensions of ag biotech. The essays were written over a dozen years, beginning in 1988.


Genetically Modify Moral Obligation Genetically Modify Crop Environmental Ethic Family Farm 
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  1. 1.
    Total biotechnology sales in the US in 1995 came to $6.8 billion. Healthcare biotech products accounted for approximately two-thirds of this figure, with ag biotech accounting for approximately 20 percent of it. “Explosion in biotechnology,” Agri-food Biotechnology without borders, First International Convent ion of Science parks Specialized in Agri-Food and Biotechnology, Quebec, April 1996.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gary Comstock, ed., Is There a Moral Obligation to Save the Family Farm? (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Wendell Berry, “A Defense of the Family Farm,” in Comstock (1987), p. 348.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Donald Worster, “Good Farming and the Public Good,” in Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, and Bruce Colman, eds., Meeting the Expectations of the Land: Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984), p. 37–40. See also Jackson, Altars of Unhewn Stone (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987); Becoming Native to this Place (Washington, DC: Counterpoint Press, 1994); and, with W. Vitek, Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). Also, Marty Strange, Family Farming: A New Economic Vision (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), and Gene Logsdon, At Nature’s Pace: Farming and the American Dream (New York: Pantheon, 1995).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cf. Kathryn P. George, “Defending a Way of Life (A Critical Review of Is There a Moral Obligation to Save the Family Farm?) in Between the Species 7 (Summer 1991): 148–153, and my response following.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    There are various ways to try to answer ethical questions about science and technology. One approach is to focus on massive cultural trends, describing how the human spirit is being shaped, or mis-shaped, by “technology” as a whole. Langdon Winner is one of our more important thinkers who takes such an approach. In The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), Winner treats a huge subject, constructing his position out of observations about technologies as diverse as manned space travel, nuclear reactor power plants, and mechanical tomato harvesters. Cf. his first book, Autonomous Technology: Technics-Out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977). Another approach works more from the bottom up, as it were, focusing in detail on particular technologies in a single industry, concerned less with “technology” and the human spirit than with specific inventions, individuals and communities. Both methods have their virtues. Here, I approach ag biotech from the basement, as it were, analyzing particular technologies. I choose this method not to avoid having to make more sweeping judgments about the direction of culture but rather to let those judgments emerge out of a set of circumscribed observations.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See, for example, Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (London: Zed Books, 1988); Jack Kloppenburg, First the Seed (Cambridge, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1988); and Jack Doyle Altered Harvest: Agriculture, Genetics, and the Fate of the World’s Food Supply (New York: Penguin, 1985). By “the writers at RAFI” I mean Cary Fowler, Patrick Mooney, and Hope Shand. Cf., the RAFI Communique newsletter, e.g., C. Fowler, E. Lachkovics, P. Mooney, and H. Shand, “The Laws of Life: Another Development and the New Biotechnologies,” Development Dialogue 1988 (1–2): 1–35.Google Scholar
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    Crouch, Martha, “The Very Structure of Scientific Research Mitigates Against Developing Products to Help the Environment, the Poor, and the Hungry,” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 4 (1991): 151–158. As editor of the special issue of JAEE in which Professor Crouch’ s article appears, I take responsibility for not catching the error in the title, which should include the word militates.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 10.
    Wes Jackson, “Our Vision for the Agricultural Sciences Need Not Include Biotechnology,” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 4 (1991): 200–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, IN: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1981), chap. 15.Google Scholar
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    Paul Thompson, “Pragmatism and Policy: The Case of Water,” in the book edited by Eric Katz and Andrew Light, Environmental Pragmatism (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 187–208.Google Scholar
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    Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice; Karen J. Warren, “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism,” Environmental Ethics 12 (Summer 1990).Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Jim Cheney, “Postmodern Environmental Ethics: Ethics as Bioregional Narrative,” Environmental Ethics 11 (1989): 117–34. A sense of place is central to Aldo Leopold’ s famous work, A Sand County Almanac, and Leopold is often called an environmental ethicist. The designation of Leopold as an ethicist is probably misplaced, as Kristin Shrader-Frechette effectively argued in a paper delivered to the 1999 annual meeting of the International Society of Environmental Ethics. Ethicists analyze arguments, develop moral theories, apply principles to cases. None of these enterprises seemed central to the work Leopold deemed most important for himself.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (New York: HarperCollins, 1987), pp. viii, 110–111. Also see Martha Nussbaum, Poetic Justice (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary L. Comstock
    • 1
  1. 1.Iowa State UniversityUSA

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