Design for Values in Agricultural Biotechnology

  • Henk van den Belt
Living reference work entry


Agricultural biotechnology dates from the last two decades of the twentieth century. It involves the creation of plants and animals with new useful traits by inserting one or more genes taken from other species. New legal possibilities for patenting transgenic organisms and isolated genes have been provided to promote the development of this new technology. The applications of biotechnology raise a whole range of value issues, like consumer and farmer autonomy, respect for intellectual property, environmental sustainability, food security, social justice, and economic growth. Hitherto the field has not yet witnessed any deliberate attempt at value-sensitive design or design for values. The reason is that under the influence of strong commercial motivations, applications have been developed first and foremost with simple agronomic aims in view, such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, traits which are based on single genes. The opportunities for value-sensitive design appear to be constrained by the special character of the biological domain. Many desirable traits like drought tolerance are genetically complex traits that cannot be built into organisms by the insertion of one or a few genes. Another problem is that nature tends to fight back, so that insects become immune to insect-resistant crops and weeds become invulnerable to herbicides. This leads to the phenomenon of perishable knowledge, which also calls the so-called patent bargain into question. The possibilities for value-sensitive design will likely increase with synthetic biology, a more advanced form of biotechnology that aims at making biology (more) “easy to engineer.” Practitioners of this new field are acutely aware of the need to proceed in a socially responsible way so as to ensure sufficient societal support. Yet synthetic biologists are currently also engaged in a fundamental debate on whether they will ultimately succeed in tackling biological complexity.


Intellectual property Complex traits Sustainability Trade-offs Perishable knowledge Synthetic biology 


  1. African Centre for Biosafety (2013) Africa bullied to grow defective Bt Maize: the failure of Monsanto’s MON810 maize in South Africa. African Centre for Biosafety, MelvilleGoogle Scholar
  2. Agapakis CM (2014) Designing Synthetic Biology. ACS Synthetic Biology 3(3):121–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Banning C (2012) Restafval van planten als alternatief voor aardolie. NRC Handelsblad, 2 Mar 2012Google Scholar
  4. Bernauer T (2003) Genes, trade, and regulation. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  5. Bindraban PS, Bulte EH, Gordijn SG (2009) Can large-scale biofuels production be sustainable by 2020? Agr Syst 101:197–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Böhme G, van den Daele W, Krohn W (1973) Die Finalisierung der Wissenschaft. Zeitschrift für Soziologie 2(2):128–144Google Scholar
  7. Bowman v. Monsanto Co et al (2013) No 11–796, slip op (S.Ct. 13 May 2013)Google Scholar
  8. Carson R (1962) Silent spring. Houghton Mifflin, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Charles H, Godfray J, Beddington JH, Crute IR, Haddad L, Lawrence D, Muir JF, Pretty J, Robinson S, Thomas SM, Toulmin C (2010) Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327:812–819CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Correa CM (2006) La disputa sobre soja transgénica: Monsanto vs. Argentina. Le Monde Diplomatique/El Dipló, Apr 2006Google Scholar
  11. Darwin C (1972 [1859]) The Origin of Species. Penguin Books, HarmondsworthGoogle Scholar
  12. De Schutter O (2011) The right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and the right to food: from conflict to complementarity. Hum Rights Q 33(2011):304–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Doorman M (2012) Rousseau en ik. Bert Bakker, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  14. Edmeades GO (2013) Progress in achieving and delivering drought tolerance in maize – an update. ISAAA, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  15. Glover D (2009) Undying promise: agricultural biotechnology’s pro-poor narrative, ten years on. STEPS working paper 15. STEPS Centre, BrightonGoogle Scholar
  16. Graham-Rowe D (2011) Beyond food versus fuel. Nature 474:S6–S8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. GRAIN (2007) The end of farm-saved seed? Industry’s wish list for the next revision of UPOV, GRAIN briefing, Feb 2007, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  18. Grant H (2008) Our commitment to produce more, conserve more.,ConserveMore.aspx
  19. Griffiths P, Stotz K (2013) Genetics and philosophy: an introduction. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gurian-Sherman D (2012) High and dry. Why genetic engineering is not solving agriculture’s drought problem in a thirsty world. Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  21. Harhoff D, Régibeau P, Rockett K (2001) Some simple economics of GM food. Econom Policy 16(33):265–299Google Scholar
  22. Herring RJ (2007) Stealth seeds: bioproperty, biosafety, biopolitics. J Dev Stud 43(1):130–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. IAASTD (2008) Synthesis report of the international assessment of agricultural science and technology for development. Washington, DC.
  24. James C (2012) Global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops: 2012, vol 44, ISAAA brief. ISAAA, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  25. Jasanoff S (2005) Designs on nature: science and democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  26. Keim B (2012) New GM crops could make superweeds even stronger. Wired, 1 May 2012Google Scholar
  27. Kilman S (2010) Superweed outbreak triggers arms race. Wall Street J, 4 June 2010Google Scholar
  28. Kitney R, Freemont P (2012) Synthetic biology – the state of play. FEBS Lett 586:2029–2036CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kuhn T (1970) The structure of scientific revolutions. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  30. Kwok R (2010) Five hard truths for synthetic biology. Nature 463:288–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mittler R, Blumwald E (2010) Genetic engineering for modern agriculture: challenges and perspectives. Annu Rev Plant Biol 61:443–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mortensen DA, Egan JF, Maxwell BD, Ryan MR, Smith RG (2012) Navigating a critical juncture for sustainable weed management. BioScience 62(1):75–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Outterson K (2005) The vanishing public domain: antibiotic resistance, pharmaceutical innovation and global public health. Univ Pittsbur Law Rev 67:67–123Google Scholar
  34. Rousseau JJ (1966 [1762]) Emile ou de l’éducation. Garnier-Flammarion, ParisGoogle Scholar
  35. Scoones I (2002) Can agricultural biotechnology be pro-poor? A sceptical look at the emerging “consensus”’. IDS Bull 33(4):114–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Vaidyanathan G (2010) A Search for regulators and a road map to deliver GM crops to third world farmers. The New York Times, 31 Mar 2010Google Scholar
  37. Van den Berg J, Hilbeck A, Bøhn T (2013) Pest resistance to Cry1Ab Bt maize: field resistance, contributing factors and lessons from South Africa. Crop Prot 54:154–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wang S, Just DR, Instrup-Andersen P (2006) Tarnishing silver bullets: Bt technology adoption, bounded rationality and the outbreak of secondary pest infestations in China. Paper presented at American agricultural economics association annual meeting, Long Beach, 22–26 July 2006Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wageningen UniversityWageningenNetherlands

Personalised recommendations