controversies & ethics

S. LaBonne labonnes at csc.albany.edu
Thu Feb 2 11:43:49 EST 1995

In article <MjA0jS200WBMA7T1sy at andrew.cmu.edu>,
Howard M. Bomze <hb10+ at andrew.cmu.edu> wrote:
>   Steve Bonne has been saying that there are no new ethical
>considerations for agricultural biotechnologies.  However, he has been
>missing one very important one, that is the possibility of an engineered
>gene to be transfered to a different species.  The transgenic plant not
>only has the sequences of the desired gene, it also contains the
>sequences which are necesary to insert the gene into the genome.  So a
>question which must be looked at is this:  If a gene for herbicide
>resistance has been put into a corn plant so that that herbicide can be
>used to kill all of the crab grass in the corn field, what happens if
>the gene is transfered to the crab grass?  

Is there an _ethical_ problem here?  I guess I can parse this as
meaning, "if we failed to be concerned about this possibility and
released the engineered corn without satisfying ourselves that it
won't happen, we would be behaving unethically".  Certainly I agree.

Since comparable transfers of desired traits have been performed by
selective breeding since the Neolithic (not to mention that horizontal
gene transfers occur all the time in nature), I still don't see the
_qualitatively_ new ethical considerations that you seem to think
exist here.  (Introducing rabbits into Australia is a good
pre-biotechnology example of failing to anticipate massive undesired
consequences of an environmental manipulation.) Don't get me wrong- we
clearly need to start thinking a lot more seriously about the
potential undesired impacts of _all_ new technologies.  I just think
that to single out biotechnology as some kind of special case borders
on superstition.

Steve LaBonne *********************** (labonnes at csc.albany.edu)
"It can never be satisfied, the mind, never." - Wallace Stevens

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