“The Moral Difference between Intragenic and Transgenic Modification of Plants”

Author: Myskja, Bjørn

Source: Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Volume 19, Number 3, June 2006 , pp. 225-238(14)

Publisher: Springer

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Public policy on the development and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has mainly been concerned with defining proper strategies of risk management. However, surveys and focus group interviews show that although lay people are concerned with risks, they also emphasize that genetic modification is ethically questionable in itself. Many people feel that this technology “tampers with nature” in an unacceptable manner. This is often identified as an objection to the crossing of species borders in producing transgenic organisms. Most scientists reject these opinions as based on insufficient knowledge about biotechnology, the concept of species, and nature in general. Some recent projects of genetic modification aim to accommodate the above mentioned concerns by altering the expression of endogenous genes rather than introducing genes from other species. There can be good scientific reasons for this approach, in addition to strategic reasons related to greater public acceptability. But are there also moral reasons for choosing intragenic rather than transgenic modification? I suggest three interrelated moral reasons for giving priority to intragenic modification. First, we should respect the opinions of lay people even when their view is contrary to scientific consensus; they express an alternative world-view, not scientific ignorance. Second, staying within species borders by strengthening endogenous traits reduces the risks and scientific uncertainty. Third, we should show respect for nature as a complex system of laws and interconnections that we cannot fully control. The main moral reason for intragenic modification, in our view, is the need to respect the “otherness” of nature.

Keywords: biotechnology; ethics; intragenic; natural; species; transgenic

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10806-005-6164-0

Affiliations: Email: bjorn.myskja@hf.ntnu.no

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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