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Report
Social and Ethical
Considerations of
Agro-biotechnology
Gary A. Goreham, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology/Anthropology
North Dakota State University

Biotechnology, in general, and
genetically modified organisms (GMOs),
in particular, pose many social and
ethical questions.

Our discussion today will explore some
of these questions.
The Sociology of Genetically Modified Organisms
The Social Psychology of
GMOs
Macro-Structural Issues:
Government, Private Industry,
and International Relations
Micro-Structural Issues: Small
Groups and Communities
The Social Psychology of GMOs

What is the social psychology and cosmology regarding
human’s place in/connection to nature as a result of the
“genetic revolution?”

How are public perceptions of GMOs affected by the larger
questions of biotechnology and human cloning?

What are environmentalists’, faith community’s, etc. attitudes
toward GMOs?

How do social movement organizations shape attitudes
toward GMOs?

What are producers attitudes toward/adoption of GMOs?

What are consumer awareness of/attitudes toward GMOs?
Micro-Structural Issues:
Small Groups and Communities

What are the characteristics of those who can and
can’t afford GMOs technology?

What are the consequences for producers for
adopting or not adopting GMOs?

What are the employment, social capital, conflict,
and development implications for rural communities?

How have the relationships among residents in rural
neighborhoods been affected by GMOs?
Macro-Structural Issues: Government,
Private Industry, & International Relations


Who are the beneficiaries of GMOs: producers,
consumers, agribusiness, general public?
What about the monopoly of the agro-food system by
transnational corporations?
Market Share Controlled by Largest Food Firms
Food
Sector
Four Largest
Food Firms
Market
Share (%)
Broilers
Tyson, Gold Kist, Perdue Farms, ConAgra
45
Beef
IBP, ConAgra (Monfort), Cargill (Excell),
Farmland Industries (National Farms)
Flour Milling ConAgra, ADM, Cargill, General
Mills
IBP, Smithfield, ConAgra, Cargill (Excell)
87
ConAgra, Superior Packing, High Country,
Denver Lamb
ADM, Cargill, Bunge, Ag Processsors
73
ConAgra, Rocco Turkeys, Hormel (Jennie-O),
Carolina Turkeys
ADM, Cargill, Tate and Lyle, CPC
35
Bunge, Illinois Cereal, ADM, ConAgra
(Lincoln Grain)
57
Flour Milling
Pork
Slaughter
Sheep
Slaughter
Soybean
Crushing
Turkey
Wet Corn
Milling
Dry Corn
Milling
Heffernan, et al., 1996.
71
46
76
74
Macro-Structural Issues: Government,
Private Industry, & International Relations

Who are the beneficiaries of GMOs: producers, consumers,
agribusiness, general public?

What about the monopoly of the agro-food system by
transnational corporations?

What are the connections among government-subsidized
GMO research, private industry, and government regulation?

How about patent and intellectual property rights?

Whose responsibility is it to clean-up genetic contamination?

What is the Impact on the structure of agriculture in
Developing Nations?

How about GMOs as military, economic weapons; genetic
terrorism?
The Ethics of Genetically Modified Organisms
Ethical Principles
Beneficence
Non-maleficence
Justice
Autonomy
Beneficence

Beneficence = to do good; unconditional
goodwill and compassion.

Can GMOs feed a hungry world?

Is GMO engineering, technology, and
agriculture sustainable? Profitable? Healthy?
Autonomy

Autonomy = self-determination; respect for
persons.

What limits human action: God’s or Nature’s
design? Human knowledge (science) or
ability (technology)?

To what degree should GMO engineering,
technology, and agriculture be regulated?

Labeling: Do individuals have a right to know
in order to make informed decisions?
Non-maleficence

Non-maleficence = do no evil or harm; riskbenefit analysis.

What are the biological, environmental,
health, and economic risks of GMOs? Are
they safe?

What could happen? What should happen?

Who will decide?

Are the risks acceptable? And do the
benefits outweigh the risks?
Justice

Justice = equity; fair treatment for all people.

Should private individuals or corporations
have the right to patent genes or life forms?

How equitably will the benefits and risks be
distributed?
The current state of affairs
regarding the social and ethical
implications of genetically
modified organisms?
We have far more questions
than answers!

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