Sustainable agriculture must have an ethical dimension, scientists argue

July 7, 2003

Brussels, 04 Jul 2003

Before society's various interest groups can pursue common goals on sustainability, particularly in the agricultural sector, an ethical dimension must be introduced to the debate, a conference of leading agricultural scientists has heard.

The 400 experts had gathered for the Nordic association of agricultural scientists congress in Turku, Finland, on 3 July. At the meeting, participants underlined the important role that research should play in identifying sustainable environmental and economic policies in the agricultural sector.

Professor Johan Bouma from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands argued that modern agriculture should respond to the concerns of citizens, and that scientists should be more involved in decision making processes on environmental matters.

Professor Erik Jensen from Denmark's Royal veterinary and agricultural university in Copenhagen took this idea further, saying that sustainable development must not be regarded as merely coping with existing problems and tidying up after effects.

'If all society's interest groups are to work towards the same goal, sustainability must be given an ethical dimension. We need debate on a common set of values and more information about the environment we all hold in trust,' he said.

Professor Jensen used the example of organic farming, asking why, since everyone knows the risks associated with mass production, people would not be willing to pay more for organically produced goods. Organic farming must be recognised as a good production model and one that will lead traditional farming in a better direction, he argued.

Support should be given to research and development (R&D) in the fields of recycling and local production, and caution should be exercised when adopting new technologies whose effects on the environment are not yet know, Professor Jensen concluded.

The congress also heard that research should not focus on issues and impacts of agricultural production alone, but the whole economic and social system, including agricultural policy.

Professor Pekka Huhtanen from MTT agrifood research in Finland picked up on this issue, giving the example of milk price subsidies. Professor Huhtanen argued that these subsidies were an example of an economic instrument that had diverted production from the sustainability principle, which in Finland had resulted in overproduction and had moved dairy farming in an ethically dubious direction.

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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