Agricultural Ethics Examined in New CAST Issue Paper

February 17, 2005

For Immediate Release

New CAST Issue Paper Examines Ethics

February 17, 2005…Washington, D.C. What exactly makes something “right” or “wrong”? And, in the agricultural–environmental arena, who makes those decisions; how are such determinations made; and how are research, policies, and other players affected? These and related questions increasingly impact agricultural research and policy directions and provide the framework for Agricultural Ethics, a new Issue Paper released today by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST).

Although it is widely known that agriculture has a long history—beginning approximately 12,000 years ago with development of plant and animal domestication­—it is less widely known that religious, political, and philosophical reflection on agriculture and the environment also has a long history.

According to Task Force Chair Jeffrey Burkhardt, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida, Gainesville, “In the late twentieth century, systematic thinking about the values and norms associated with the food system—farming, resource management, food processing, distribution, trade, and consumption—came to be referred to as ‘agricultural ethics,’ incorporating elements of philosophical ethical analysis with concerns about particular issue areas that arise in connection with the food system.”

Written and reviewed by a Task Force of seven leading experts in the field, Agricultural Ethics examines the nature of ethics as applied to agriculture (as well as the environment), briefly discusses how ethical concepts and tools can address several issue areas in the food system, comments on how consideration of agricultural ethics might be institutionalized, and provides a glossary to help those interested in these issues navigate through the topic of “ethics” as applied to the world of agriculture.

Specific agricultural ethics topics that currently generate public discussion are included:

“People have different opinions on farm subsidies, solving world hunger, and genetically modified organisms,” says Burkhardt. “And when they disagree about such issues, they invariably invoke arguments, explicitly or implicitly, to support their opinions. Ultimately, a major goal of agricultural ethics is to discover or develop clear, noncontradictory, comprehensive, and universal standards for judging right and wrong actions and policies.”

There are numerous areas that raise agricultural ethics concerns, including

“By analyzing arguments and positions on ethical issues,” concludes Richard E. Stuckey, Senior Advisor to CAST, “a better understanding of the criteria or standards that should govern an individual’s actions can be evaluated and thus lead to judgments about what counts as being ethically right and wrong. CAST’s new publication provides a springboard for thoughtful evaluation of the often-controversial ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’ of agricultural choices.”

The full text of the paper Agricultural Ethics (Issue Paper No. 29) may be accessed on the CAST website at, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications, and is available in hardcopy for $5.00 (includes shipping) by contacting the CAST office at 515-292-2125.  CAST is an international consortium of 36 scientific and professional societies. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally on food, fiber, agricultural, natural resource, and related societal and environmental issues to its stakeholders—legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.

Help Support CAST

Your donation to CAST helps support the CAST mission of communicating science to meet the challenge of producing enough food, fiber and fuel for a growing population. Every gift, no matter the size, is appreciated.