The Political Import of Intrinsic Objections to Genetically Engineered Food

  • Robert Streiffer
  • Thomas Hedemann


Many people object to genetically engineerehd (GE) food because they believe that it is unnatural or that its creation amounts to playing God. These objections are often referred to as intrinsic objections, and they have been widely criticized in the agricultural bioethics literature as being unsound, incompatible with modern science, religious, inchoate, and based on emotion instead of reason. Many of their critics also argue that even if these objections did have some merit as ethicalobjections, their quasi-religious nature means that they are entirely irrelevant when interpreted aspolitical objections regarding what public policy ought to be. In this paper, we argue that this widespread view is false. Intrinsic objections have much more political import than has previously been recognized, and indeed the requirements of political liberalism and its associated idea of liberal neutrality, once properly understood, protect intrinsic objections from many of the most common objections. That is, policy-makers may not legitimately base public policy on grounds that are inconsistent with intrinsic objections, even when they believe those objections to be flawed in the ways mentioned above. This means that in the context of a political debate about GE food, the discussion should not center on the substantive merits of the intrinsic objections themselves but rather on the appropriate political norms for achieving democratically legitimate policy on issues that touch people’s deepest religious and moral beliefs.


ethics genetically engineered food genetically modified food GM food intrinsic objections liberal neutrality playing God political liberalism unnaturalness yuck factor 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Department of Medical History and BioethicsUniversity of Wisconsin, MadisonMadisonUSA

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