Thanks to Bart Hall for another thoughtful and provocative post. I agree with his important assertions in the first few paragraphs. "Just saying no" to biotech is not an option nor a course of action for society that is defensible. I paraphrase below the question he has posed to the list, and then I add a relevant follow-on question --
Bart asks -- "Are you categorically opposed to all applications of biotechnology?"
My answer -- no.
My follow-on question I pose to everyone who answers Bart's question with a "No" is --
"What applications of biotechnology in agriculture and food production do you think might be worth the cost of developing them and the costs of dealing with whatever risks and uncertainties their use entails?"
In my recent AAAS paper I address both applications that in my judgement are not defensible or sustainable (most of the technologies on the market now), as well as those that seem to offer promise of "good things" at an affordable price. I have argued before on this and other lists that the "moral authority" (and ultimately, credibility) of biotech analysts -- whether in most respects supporters or critics -- will be a function of, or linked to the thoughtfulness of the criteria they use to judge the "goodness/badness" of a biotech application, and how open-mindedly and honestly they are willing to apply those criteria in all cases, letting the chips fall where they may. And so, I want to thank Bart for asking the question and urge several people to be thinking about how they would answer it. I suspect that many of us are actually more interested in the "first principles" that people rely on in answering the question than in people's judgements on a particular application -- so feel free to just address decision criteria and principles if that feels more comfortable.
For my "list," read the section "Promising Applications of Genomics and
Biotechnology in Food and Fiber Production" (pages 3-13) in the paper
accessible in PDF format at --
The electronically enhanced version is in html and has live links to
abstracts or full text of most references, for those that want to dive
deeper into the applications I discuss. It is at --
I look forward to other people's lists and further discussion on this important challenge. And while I am at it, I also want to express my personal view that everyone and all organizations working on biotech issues should denounce acts of ecoterrorism that damage other people's property and threaten harm to living things. Street theater, civil disobedience, the Baking Brigade and all other forms of creative and peaceful protest are fine and very much needed, but as a community, we must now speak out loud and clear that violence is where the line must be drawn.
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Last Updated on 3/6/00
By Karen Lutz