Organisatie - 19 maart 2009

ETHICS AND SCIENCE

In the discussion about evolution reported on in Resource 19, Professor Herman van Eck mentioned an anthroposophical professor of organic plant breeding and implied that there is no place for such ‘dogma’ in a ‘rational’ university. For a pure technical university this might be true, but for Wageningen University this certainly is not the case.
Science in Wageningen is drenched in ethics, since we do research on issues related to food and to the social sciences. To establish ethical boundaries, scientists dealing with essential human needs, such as food production, need social and ethical awareness. This awareness can be achieved by generating rules suited for a specific community, as in organic farming: a biodynamic farming system only allows inputs derived from organic farming. This rule provides a basis for product designation.
Dogmas exist in other sciences too, for example plant breeding, the area in which van Eck works. In plant breeding, genetic modification (transgenesis) is a big hurdle which can only be taken by well-endowed companies like Monsanto and Syngenta. In order to circumvent this, the department of plant breeding has come up with a process called cisgenesis. Cisgenisis is genetic modification in which only genes derived from crossable species may be used, thus allowing a fast introduction of genetic traits like disease resistance. The insertion of DNA from a non-crossable species is not allowed, and this makes it possible for small plant breeding companies to use genetic modification. In my opinion, another dogma.
These types of dogma can be used to draw up regulations as well as to establish ethical borders which can be used to discuss topics like organic farming or cisgenesis, helping us ‘to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’ (Wageningen UR’s mission statement).

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