Wetenschap - 1 januari 1970

Sponsorship and ethics

Sponsorship and ethics

Sponsorship and ethics

It is always a pleasure to notice that people show an interest in the conference you organized, even though they didn't take the opportunity to attend. We do appreciate critical comments. However, it is a pity when such non-participants somehow feel the urge to make a public statement without first trying to falsify their judgements by (participatory) observation (Richards et al, Wb 11): the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, let's put some things straight

1. Yes, the First European Congress on Agricultural and Food Ethics was sponsored by, among others, Unilever and Monsanto. But no, their financial support didn't imply that they had a say in drawing the substantial programme of the conference. Needless to say, of course not! Besides this, we did make clear who sponsored the conference, not only as an advertisement but also to make public who were involved financially

2. Yes, NGO's and other social organizations didn't sponsor the conference; they probably need their scarce funds to support their own activities. But no, this didn't imply that delegates from such organizations didn't participate in the conference programme; we had delegates from, for instance, the Oeko-Institut, Greenpeace, Compassion in World Farming, and the Swedish Society against Painful Experiments on Animals. In fact, participation from divergent social groups in the field of agriculture and food was an explicit objective in organizing this conference

3. The comparison, drawn by Richards et al, between arms manufacturers and food companies as Unilever and Monsanto is in our view plain rethoric. Only those who devide the world in two groups - the good guys (we and the NGO's) and the bad guys (capitalist industries) - can make such comparisons. We think that the problems are more complex and the values at stake less clear. In ethics we base our discussions on constructive arguments, not on cheap comparisons. Any constructive debate would be enhanced, if we refrained from using such moral nukes

4. In the conference's concluding session on the prospective European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics (EUR-SAFE), Paul Thompson (former chairman of the American sister association) raised the issue of sponsorship. The American association doesn't accept financial support from the industries, but at our meeting apparently nobody felt the need for such symbol-politics. As long as sponsorship doesn't imply biasing the debate, it need not be a problem. Anyway, we'd rather initiate a substantive debate on the relative merits of different, e.g. ethical or culture theoretical, approaches to normative issues in agriculture and food than waste our time on scaremongering or tilting at windmills


(Center for Bio-Ethics and Health Law, Utrecht University),


(Strategic Policies Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries),


(Ethics Committee, Royal Agricultural Society)


(Applied Philosophy Group, Wageningen Agricultural University)

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