Ethical Tools to Support Systematic Public Deliberations about the Ethical Aspects of Agricultural Biotechnologies

  • Volkert Beekman
  • Frans W. A. Brom


This special issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics presents so-called ethical tools that are developed to support systematic public deliberations about the ethical aspects of agricultural biotechnologies. This paper firstly clarifies the intended connotations of the term “ethical tools” and argues that such tools can support liberal democracies to cope with the issues that are raised by the application of genetic modification and other modern biotechnologies in agriculture and food production. The paper secondly characterizes the societal discussion on agricultural biotechnology and defends the thesis that normative perspectives fuel this discussion, so one cannot come to grips with this discussion if one neglects these perspectives. The paper thirdly agrues that no such thing exists as “one” societal debate in which these issues should be discussed. There are several interwined debates, and different actors participate in different discourses. Some practical instruments are necessary in order to include the right issues in these debates. These instruments will be coined as “ethical tools,” since they are practical instruments that can be used (tools) in order to support debates and deliberative structures for a systematic engagement with ethical issues (hence, ethical tools). Finally, the paper clarifies the ethics of these ethical tools and presents the tools as discussed in the remainder of this special issue: 1) tools to include ethical issues in public consulation and involvement; 2) tools to support systematic reflection upon ethical issues in decision-making; and 3) tools to support explicit communication about values in the food chain.


Ethical tools GM evaluation normative perspective societal debate values in the food chain participatory decision-making communicative space value pluralism 


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  1. EU (2003), European Legislative Framework for GMOs is Now in Place, Brussels: European Communities Press Release, 22 July: IP/03/1056Google Scholar
  2. FSA (2003), The Food Standards Agency’s Contribution to the Public Dialogue ‘Consumer Views of GM food’. Food Standards Agency, LondonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Agricultural Economics Research InstituteWageningen University and Research CentreThe HagueThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Ethics InstituteUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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