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Ethics in agricultural research

By P. B. Thompson

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Utilitarian ethics provide a model for evaluating moral responsibility in agricultural research decisions according to the balance of costs and benefits accruing to the public at large. Given the traditions and special requirements of agricultural research planning, utilitarian theory is well adapted to serve as a starting point for evaluating these decisions, but utilitarianism has defects that are well documented in the philosophical literature. Criticisms of research decisions in agricultural mechanization and biotechnology correspond to documented defects in utilitarian theory. Research administrators can expect that application of a utilitarian standard ignoring these deficiencies will become the occasion for predictable attacks by critics. Administrators who are sensitive to the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarian ethics are equipped to make a better allocation of research effort. Two examples are cited and discussed. The first is the development of a mechanical harvester at the University of California intended for processed uses (a decision that also implies development of adapted tomato breeds). The decision was made on the basis of a judgement that: (a) hand labour would become scarce, thereby increasing consumer prices for processed tomatoes, and (b) California producers would be at risk. The package was introduced with both adverse consequences averted. Biotechnology research, in particular bovine somatotropin, is discussed in terms of moral responsibility and equity problems.

Date 1988
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural Ethics
Volume 1
Issue 1
Pages 11-20
Language English
Author Address Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA.
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Biotechnology
  3. California
  4. Developed countries
  5. Ethics
  6. Flowers
  7. Harvesting
  8. Hormones
  9. Laws and regulations
  10. North America
  11. OECD countries
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. Plants
  14. Research
  15. Social psychology and social anthropology
  16. Studies
  17. United States of America
  1. peer-reviewed