Ethical questions: from the legitimacy of transgenics, through the raison d'etre of GMOs, to the responsability of their advocates

Genetic engineering is presented as a major scientific and technological revolution. This fact, according to its promoters, is what gives it its legitimacy. But it is also why some people fear it. The former do not hesitate in using a Promethean rhetoric. The latter’s fears, however, are just as valid. But examining scientific controversies and observing the emergent debate on GMOs lead one to assert that transgenics, sophisticated tinkering with uncertain results, involves playing with natural processes. Therefore, it is neither without emphasis nor without belief in the superpower of genetics that this engineering has become, for some, a technical revolution ensuring an unprecedented control of nature and, for others, a problematic and artificial transformation of the living organisms that could have serious consequences. Rather, I would consider it as a “technological bluff” that the “genetics-are-all myth” makes convincing. If we admit, as Henri Atlan does, that all is not in the gene, neither the Promethean rhetoric of scientists nor the hyperbolic fear of the insane demiurge can be justified by the “genetic program” metaphor. There is no longer any reason to consider that the genome must not be tampered with. If one abandons the “genetics-are-all myth”, transgenics, which was first a laboratory technology, appears to be legitimate engineering. What poses problems, then, is when this technology steps beyond the scientific research field and GMOs are likely to be marketed and spread quickly across the world. It implies shifting the question of the legitimacy of transgenics to the raison d'être of GMOs, and then to the responsibility of those who promote them, taking into account the consequences of their spreading on a large scale.

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Journal Article
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ISSN 1778-4379 (Other)
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Published in:
INRA Sciences Sociales, 2004
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