GENET archive


9-Misc: Genetic Engineering and the Intrinsic Value and Integrityof Animals and Plants

genet-news mailing list

-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Genetic Engineering and the Intrinsic Value and Integrity of
        Animals and Plants -- Proceedings of a Workshop at the Royal
        Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, UK
SOURCE: Ifgene - International Forum for Genetic Engineering, UK
DATE:   Febraury 2003

------------------ archive: ------------------

Editors: David Heaf & Johannes Wirz
Publisher: Ifgene - International Forum for Genetic Engineering
Publication date: December 2002 ISBN: 0-9541035-1-3
Format: A4; 116 pages; 35 illustrations


More than 70 people with various interests including animal and crop
breeding and husbandry (both organic and conventional); environmental and
moral philosophy; law; molecular and holistic biology; socioeconomics and
political science and biotechnology regulation met during four days in
September 2002 to work on this theme. What follows is an editorial
selection of the highlights of the proceedings.

Value generated and conserved is the first fact of evolution. Life per se
is defended - an intrinsic value (a good of its own, an inherent worth).
Ecosystemic loci of intrinsic value are meshed into a network of
instrumental value. Value is captured and transformed by living beings
including humans. As part of the network they capture and enhance natural
values and integrate them into the richness of culture. Enhancement
promotes utility or adaptive fit in culture. Utility generated has
intrinsic value. Organismic value-in-itself is smeared out to become
value-in-togetherness. Ongoing defence of valued life means that not only
does biological identity - the species as individuality - persist as a
discrete pattern over time but also generates new achievements in
biodiversity and complexity. Value seeps out into the system, and we lose
our capacity to identify the individual as the sole locus of value.
Intrinsic value, the value of an individual 'for what it is in itself'
becomes problematic in a holistic web. Every intrinsic value has leading
and trailing 'ands' pointing to value from which it comes and toward
which it moves. But everything is good in a role, in a whole. Individual
'integrity' has to be 'integrated' into the ecosystem in which the
individual resides. Each is for itself, but none is by itself; each is
tested for optimal compliance in an intricately disciplined community.
Every organism is an opportunist in the system, but without opportunity
except in the ongoing system. Each is against the others, but each locus
of value is tied into a corporation where values are preserved even as
they are exchanged.

The foregoing puts humans firmly in the web of nature. Other workshop
participants saw 'nature' as anything outside the sphere of human
activity, i.e. pristine nature. This led to the idea that the more we
artificialise organisms, i.e. adapt nature to human purpose with breeding
methods old or new, the more we should conserve true wilderness. An
alternative view sees man in partnership with nature in all its global
diversity and as integrating culture and nature. Plant and animal
breeding, as part of culture, should be regionally adapted and involve
farmers, the people most aware of how organisms perform locally. The
healthiest breeds are those whose integrity is not compromised to the
point where the farmer is not guaranteed a decent human existence.

'Integrity' is a vague concept, but vagueness is the rule not the
exception for concepts. Define a table, for instance! Integrity was
discussed at levels beyond the organismic level implicit in the workshop
title including species integrity (an ongoing widespread concern about GE
especially in relation to GM fish and insects); landrace integrity (a
session was given to the current maize transgene introgression in Mexico)
and integrity of indigenous cultures. Threat to socioeconomic integrity
was exemplified by GM cultivar alternatives to palm oil and labour saving
GM coffee varieties.

How an organism manifests is determined by its inner nature and its outer
circumstances. The organism informs all its parts subject to the outer
circumstances which include the chemical substances it needs to manifest
itself. Amongst these are value added substances in the organism's body
such as the genes, the DNA. Two unresolved conflicting views of GE were
presented. One is that changing the genes of an organism does not change
the organism's integrity provided that it can still function, i.e. its
inherent capacity to cope with the change is not so overwhelmed that it
dies. A sheep with human genes is still a sheep. The other is that
changing a gene alters an organism's very nature, e.g. adding one gene
can change a plant's whole growth habit. In figuring out organismic
integrity and intrinsic value, one needs all the levels of distribution
and integration from genes to ecosystems. Several examples throughout the
workshop illustrated the fact that organismic integrity includes
integrity of its specific environment which can be seen as a larger
member of the organism.

In capturing and enhancing value, how far humans should impact plant and
animal integrity is a matter for ethics and law. Where scientists
conceive organisms as 'models', for instance GM mice, their paradigm,
which includes a 'parts approach', rules out from the outset any idea of
intrinsic value. The argument goes that science deals with facts; ethics
should come in only when science is applied, i.e. technology. But the
investigative method itself is also a technology. Therefore it also
deserves ethical scrutiny. Laboratory science is not value neutral.
Intrinsic concerns, hitherto sidelined in the GE debate, could play a
greater part.

Regarding scientific methods, the reductionism-holism polarity was a
frequently recurring theme. Both approaches were well represented by
practising scientists and they agreed that neither approach is
indispensable. They are complementary. And modern biology is on its way
to rediscovering the organism. Although GE is the logical consequence of
the parts approach, the meaningfulness of a gene is revealed only in the
context of both the organism in which it is expressed and the environment
where that organism is expected to function. Some unintended effects on
GM plant phenotypes only manifest when they are grown under their
intended field conditions. A genetic engineer who ignores the whole,
risks putting simplistic, incomplete science into the marketplace. For
every step taken in precise manipulation of the parts of animals and
plants a step should be taken in understanding them contextually. This
involves very carefully looking at the parts with the intention of
understanding the whole, not seeing the whole as being out of the parts.
Holism, rather than being diffuse, leads back to the organism as clear
idea. The workshop included two 2-hour sessions to demonstrate and
participate in such phenomenological approaches.

Concern was expressed at the hegemony of reductionist science and the
disproportionate research funding it receives compared with the science
underpinning for instance organic agriculture. The latter too can harbour
reductionist tendencies. Organic conversion demands as much an inner
transformation of thinking as an outer change in farming methods.

Looking at organisms, even in the laboratory, invokes aesthetics, the
science of sense or perceptive knowledge. Whether selection occurs in
tissue culture or field, the breeder makes aesthetic choices based on
morphology. If we focus on utility we do not really see the organism in
question but rather ourselves because our attention is fixed on
satisfying our desires. On the other hand, the beauty we behold in an
organism is its intrinsic value perceived. It reminds us of the existence
of values not created by man and the fact that plants and animals have a
good of their own. In recognising their beauty we cannot help feeling
that they deserve a certain respect, that it matters not only whether but
also how they exist, i.e. under what conditions. Perception of beauty
draws us into a moral relationship with other living beings which need be
neither humans nor animals. We can rise from what were termed the common,
the instrumental and the scientific modes of perception to the level of
the personal mode of perception where we recognise the uniqueness of the
living being and from this gain the knowledge necessary to love and
respect it.

Phenomenological holistic observation can also help in judging where the
limit should come in genetic enhancement of an organism by whatever
method. In assessing breeding outcomes we should be open to the
possibility that there are holistic observation methods yet to be
developed, for instance qualitative and intuitive. These could have a
part to play where nourishment is seen not merely as replacing substances
or refuelling but providing surplus value for human creative, moral and
spiritual development. How does GM impact this subtler aspect of human
nutrition especially long term? Methods for assessing foods from modern
breeds should supplement the concept of substantial equivalence with the
additional categories of qualitative and ethical equivalence.

Much as moral intuition is an individual matter, the normative ethics
needed for societal function - health, safety, freedom from cruelty etc.
- brings in the need to draw firm lines in legislation. The alternative
proposal that use of genetic modification should be determined by the
market was objected to on the basis that in any society the market too,
in order to function, presupposes a framework of rights. Efforts to
establish such rights, which could include protecting the nature of an
animal, will be most fruitful at the international level because
governments avoid legislation that puts their country at an economic
disadvantage. Relevant in this respect was the workshop session on the
difficulties facing implementation of the potentially restrictive 'no,
unless' statute on animal biotechnology in the Netherlands.

In public deliberations as part of the democratic process towards
legislation, the term 'intrinsic value' might be too abstract and need
replacing with terms such as freedom, independence, choice, dignity etc.
Furthermore the focus should be on real scenarios rather than urban myths
created by the media or speculative ethicists.

Some genetic modifications would be ruled out in principle but others
might be judged by degree. In which case in setting the cut-off point,
utility, for instance using animals for medical treatments and research
(where most GM animals are used), should be balanced against the need to
avoid impacting something fundamental to an animal's phenotype and thus
its wellbeing. It was agreed that even traditional breeding has gone too
far in this respect and several examples were given. Whilst it was
acknowledged that GM is not likely to be used much on land animals farmed
for food, a plea was made that in any future breeding the animal should
'have its say'. Artifice should not be forced on it but changes elicited.

Biologists present disagreed on whether GM is essentially different from
traditional breeding although both supporters and opponents of the
technology concurred that personal worldviews determine attitudes to it.
Certainly both methods exploit cellular capacities to manage DNA but GM
is faster, bypassing the correcting process of evolution. Apparent
impacts on the health of GM organisms may be attributable to in vitro
manipulations rather than the transgene, e.g. somaclonal variation in
potato. Breeding prior to recombinant DNA technology also produced
unintended effects. Biotechnologists have been ambivalent when presenting
the technology. To research funders, investors and patent officers it
must be presented as radically new. To regulators and consumers it must
appear merely 'novel', based on tried and tested methods, raising no new

The phenomenon of technology lock-in was described. A society becomes
committed to a technology and can only relinquish it at great cost. High
input intensive agriculture calls for GM cultivars and increasingly
artificial breeding methods. GM is a logical continuation. There is a
very high short-term cost in escaping from this trend, for instance into
sustainable or organic agriculture. In medicine the corresponding switch
of resources would be to preventive medicine. But, for instance, a Swiss
referendum prevented such a switch on economic grounds. Lock-in already
works to the benefit of biotechnology because it helps justify the
agricultural and medical solutions it offers. Problems resulting from
adoption of an inappropriate technology are diminished by the system
round it evolving, e.g. by favourable legislation, subsidies etc. The
domination by experts and scientists of the debate GM adoption was seen
as questionable if intrinsic concerns are not part of the scientific
paradigm. Instead the debate needs equitable representation of value systems.

An evening panel discussion dominated by risk-benefit considerations
revealed many existing structural problems in society such as democratic
processes, inequitable power apportionment, allocation of resources or
problems with existing agricultural or health management methods. GE was
seen as a lightning rod for such concerns.

What we do to our plants and animals, we do to ourselves. We are
intimately related to the natural world. All traditional peoples knew
this simple truth - one session presented the Maori idea of culture where
intrinsic value is taken for granted. If we deserve respect and have
rights, so does the natural world. If we uphold the integrity and
intrinsic value of plants and animals, we uphold our own integrity as
well. But if we disregard the integrity and intrinsic value of plants and
animals, our integrity and intrinsic value will be diminished in the process.

Includes transcripts of all discussions.

Full details of how to order are at:


What do we mean by the intrinsic value and integrity of plants and
animals? -- Holmes Rolston III (Philosophy Department, Colorado
University, USA);

Engineering genesis: pioneering genetic engineering and ethics in
Scotland -- Donald Bruce (Society, Religion & Technology Project, Scotland);

Seeing the integrity and intrinsic value of animals: developing
appreciative modes of understanding -- Craig Holdrege (The Nature
Institute, NY, USA);

Does genetic engineering impact the intrinsic value and integrity of
plants? -- Howard Davies (Scottish Crops Research Institute);

Phenomenological studies on transgenic potatoes: genetic modification
adds more than intended traits -- Ruth Richter (Naturwissenschaftliche
Sektion, Goetheanum, Switzerland);

Does genetic engineering impact the intrinsic value and integrity of
animals? -- Henk Verhoog (Louis Bolk Institute, Netherlands);

Does genetic engineering impact the intrinsic value and integrity of
animals? -- Harry Griffin (Roslin Institute, Scotland);

Why is it in the farmer's interest to pay attention to the intrinsic
value and integrity of animals and plants? -- Timothy Brink (Demeter
Standards, UK);

New rules for a new situation: protecting animals' interests in the era
of genetic engineering -- Mike Radford (Law Department, Aberdeen
University, Scotland);

Could genetic engineering be part of a sustainable breeding approach? --
Christina Henatsch (Kultursaat, Germany);

Naturalness and breeding in organic farming -- Ton Baars (Louis Bolk
Institute, Netherlands);

The socio-economic implications of biotechnology in agriculture:
exploring the issues -- Ben Davies, Caspian Richards and Clive L. Spash
(Macaulay Institute, Scotland); Progress towards a science of organisms:
genetically modified animals - Bruce Whitelaw (Roslin Institute, Scotland);

Towards a science of organism: lessons to learn from phenomenology --
Johannes Wirz (Naturwissenschaftliche Sektion, Goetheanum, Switzerland);

Making a social contract for biotechnology -- Donald Bruce (Society,
Religion & Technology Project, Scotland);

Genetic engineering and intrinsic value: the New Zealand experience --
Alastair S. Gunn and Kelly A. Tudhope (Philosophy Department, Waikato
University, New Zealand);

The relation between ethics and aesthetics in connection with moral
judgements about gene technology -- Michael Hauskeller (Exeter Genomics
Research Centre, UK);

Maize landrace integrity and transgenic introgression: the recent Mexican
experience -- Fernando Ortiz Monasterio (Cibiogem, Mexico);

Experts and the public assessing intrinsic ethical concerns: experiences
with the Dutch animal biotechnology policy -- Lino Paula (Ecological &
Evolutionary Sciences Institute, Leiden, Netherlands);

Substantial equivalence and ethical equivalence: contrasting approaches
-- Sylvie Pouteau (National Agricultural Research Institute (INRA), France);

The intrinsic value of micro-organisms -- Judyth Sassoon (Biochemistry
Department, Bath University, UK).