Utilitarian bioethics?: market fetishism in the GM crops debate

Levidow, Les (2001). Utilitarian bioethics?: market fetishism in the GM crops debate. New Genetics and Society, 20(1) pp. 75–84.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14636770123667

URL: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/cng...


In the early debate over agricultural biotechnology, the term 'risk' was used to challenge the legitimacy and problem-definitions of the dominant R&D priorities. In response, state procedures were designed to fragment the issues through separate administrative procedures for safety and bioethics. With the advent of mass protest and intense public debate, 'bioethics' has again been contested, now more clearly linked with globalization and development issues. Even within ethics discourse, utilitarian concepts are used to emphasize tangible product benefits, which are defined according to particular socio-economic assumptions. These assume that food insecurity results from inefficient agricultural methods and deficient inputs. More fundamentally, such favourable arguments idealize 'the market' as a quasi-natural force which somehow judges and distributes benefits of products. This pervasive utilitarian ideology is reinforced by the report of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

As investors devise political-commercial strategies for commoditizing plant resources and intensifying global competition among producers, these forces are fetishized as 'the market', as if given by the nature of things. At the same time, when consumers demand different market choices, their rationality is questioned. This response extends the original 'utilitarian' ideology -- by naturalizing the commodization process, while disparaging any resistance as illegitimate interference with progress. In this form, utilitarian bioethics delinks R&D priorities from the relevant forces -- which shape the 'market demand', subordinate resource use to market relations, and marginalize practices outside such relations.

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