Agricultural Ethics Examined in New CAST Issue Paper

February 17, 2005

For Immediate Release                                                       
New CAST Issue Paper Examines Ethics
February 17, 2005…Washington, D.C. What exactly makes something “right” or “wrong”? And, in the agricultural–environmental arena, who makes those decisions; how are such determinations made; and how are research, policies, and other players affected? These and related questions increasingly impact agricultural research and policy directions and provide the framework for Agricultural Ethics, a new Issue Paper released today by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST).
Although it is widely known that agriculture has a long history—beginning approximately 12,000 years ago with development of plant and animal domestication­—it is less widely known that religious, political, and philosophical reflection on agriculture and the environment also has a long history.
According to Task Force Chair Jeffrey Burkhardt, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida, Gainesville, “In the late twentieth century, systematic thinking about the values and norms associated with the food system—farming, resource management, food processing, distribution, trade, and consumption—came to be referred to as ‘agricultural ethics,’ incorporating elements of philosophical ethical analysis with concerns about particular issue areas that arise in connection with the food system.”
           Written and reviewed by a Task Force of seven leading experts in the field, Agricultural Ethics examines the nature of ethics as applied to agriculture (as well as the environment), briefly discusses how ethical concepts and tools can address several issue areas in the food system, comments on how consideration of agricultural ethics might be institutionalized, and provides a glossary to help those interested in these issues navigate through the topic of “ethics” as applied to the world of agriculture.
Specific agricultural ethics topics that currently generate public discussion are included:

·        Farm structure
·        Ethics of animal use
·        Food safety
·        Environmental impacts
·        International trade
·        Food security
·        Agricultural biotechnology
·        Research ethics
·        Public trust in science
·        Institutionalizing ethical analysis in agriculture

“People have different opinions on farm subsidies, solving world hunger, and genetically modified organisms,” says Burkhardt. “And when they disagree about such issues, they invariably invoke arguments, explicitly or implicitly, to support their opinions. Ultimately, a major goal of agricultural ethics is to discover or develop clear, noncontradictory, comprehensive, and universal standards for judging right and wrong actions and policies.”
There are numerous areas that raise agricultural ethics concerns, including
  • The move from small, family farms to large, international agribusinesses (“loss of traditional stewardship of the land” or “a natural economic adjustment”?);
  • The increasing worldwide consumption of meat (“increased protein intake and variety in foods” or “a threat to animal well-being and land use”?);
  • The modern food production-transportation-processing-wholesaling-retailing chain in which foods can be exposed to chemicals or microbiological pathogens, or simply can be mishandled (“government responsibility” or “personal responsibility”?);
  • Agriculture’s effect on the environment (“wise use of resources for the benefit of humans” or “destructive behavior toward the natural habitat of animals, plants and natural resources”?); and
  • The use of biotechnology in agricultural production (“experimental and dangerous” or “beneficial and efficient”?).
           “By analyzing arguments and positions on ethical issues," concludes Richard E. Stuckey, Senior Advisor to CAST, “a better understanding of the criteria or standards that should govern an individual’s actions can be evaluated and thus lead to judgments about what counts as being ethically right and wrong. CAST’s new publication provides a springboard for thoughtful evaluation of the often-controversial ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’ of agricultural choices.”
The full text of the paper Agricultural Ethics (Issue Paper No. 29) may be accessed on the CAST website at <>, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications, and is available in hardcopy for $5.00 (includes shipping) by contacting the CAST office at 515-292-2125.  CAST is an international consortium of 36 scientific and professional societies. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally on food, fiber, agricultural, natural resource, and related societal and environmental issues to its stakeholders—legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.