GMOs and Their Relation to Both Monsanto and Ethics: A Retrospective Study

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Discussion 1:

Ethics are rarely a cut-and-dry issue, and nowhere is this more apparent than with Monsanto's foray into genetically modified plants and animals. While it might seem like there are no downsides to using genetics to modify one's plants in order to do things like resist herbicide and yield more and better harvests, these do indeed come at a price. Namely, the animals themselves are suffering, developing tumors and other nasty afflictions (Hirschler, 2012). This is a fairly good example of the authority contractarianism exhibits over the common man. Monsanto, at this point, is the largest agricultural company in America, and as such, has enough patents and the like to sue whoever it pleases. It shows that power, in this day and age, can rob a man of not just his legal rights, but his natural rights as well. Monsanto has sued farmers over things like utilizing certain planting techniques on Monsanto property (such as not being able to save seeds left over for next year), which is a violation of natural rights on the most basic level. According to the text, "The Fool admits that breaking his promises is unjust, but he doesn't care about whether his actions are just or not" (Shaefer-Landau, 2012). Contrary to what many believe, the concept of the (contractarianism) is alive and well today.

Further evidence of this can be seen in Monsanto's adherence to proceduralism, particularly with its use of gauging genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Monsanto conducted tests on one of its GMOs, and determined that it was possible it had adverse effects, in some of the tests, meaning that it was very possible that their GMO they were testing, named MON 863, which was a type of corn (Seralini, et al 2009). However, they opted not to report this information to the public, which prompted many to question their methods. This also helps to show that proceduralism and contractarianism are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts. That is to say, Monsanto was acting within the bounds of the procedure that it itself had made, but these procedures were created by Monsanto themselves. Since they are such a large company, it certainly qualifies as contractarianism on at least some level. As has been shown, when these two ethics concepts collide, the results are rarely pretty.

Lastly, it is necessary to examine the role Monsanto plays in the production of crops for the world, namely, India and China. It seems that Monsanto's genetically engineered food are helping with production overseas. For example, Monsanto introduced what is called "Bt cotton," or genetically modified cotton, into China. In doing so, China experienced a huge boom in cotton production, due to the improved genes of the cotton plants. In 2003, it was reported that 2.8 million hectares of Bt cotton were planted in China, and that number only continues to grow (Huesing, 2004). This begs the question of if contractarianism is an entirely self-serving code of ethics, or if it is possible for it to help others as well, albeit indirectly. The textbook lists the prisoner's dilemma as a real-life scenario, stating that "rational pursuit of self-interest will lead people to refuse to cooperate with one another, even though this leaves everyone much worse off" (Shafer-Landau, 2012). Perhaps Monsanto is violating the ethics of its own code, contractarianism, by performing these seemingly humanitarian efforts in foreign countries.

Discussion 2:

Kant's approach to ethics, usually called Kantian Ethics, and consequentialism, differ mainly on their perceptions of the motivations of the individual. Kantian ethics state that an individual's actions will only be good if these actions uphold the moral law of the individual. Consequentialism, on the other hand, states that the consequences of an individual's act, not the individual himself, dictate one's actions. The two philosophies have their applications, but, on the whole, it seems that consequentialism is better and more applicable in the modern world, where rigid rules run rampant. The book shares a similar notion with consequentialism, stating that committing unethical acts that have no consequences is "the height of rationality" (Shafer-Landau, 2012). After all, what better an act than one that is perfectly rational?

It is necessary to identify what Kant means when he refers to actions as having "moral worth." Essentially, this simply means that an action has moral worth if it expresses good will. For this to be true, motives must be more than self-serving (i.e. an individual cannot, for example, be acting to satiate only his or her own happiness). In contrast, utilitarian care little for motivations of an individual. Utilitarianism concerns itself only with the usefulness of thoughts and actions. To this end, a utilitarian would have no problem acting only to satiate his or her own desire for happiness alone. It is a more selfish philosophy, but also a more logical one, to the individual, at least. The textbook uses utilitarianism to (partially) justify some types of crime by stating "...injustice can sometimes be highly rational" (Shafer-Landau, 2012).

Kant believes that animals are not self-conscious, and as such, are not subject to the same moral standards as sentient beings like humans. He believes animals have no moral rights. Simply put, Kant believes a certain level of sentience is necessary in order to be rational, and those animals, not having morals, are impossible to be acted immorally against. This is ridiculous, because even assuming that is true, animals do feel pain, and the one giving the pain must know that (being sentient), so if the rationale behind the action is to inflict pain, how can the action be morally justified, if no one benefits, save for the individual's lust to give pain to others? This concept is one of Kant's that simply has not held up, due largely to the advances in science that give more of an insight to what animals can feel. The book summarizes this contradiction by stating that "For just people, it is always rational to act justly" (Shafer-Landau, 2012).


Hirschler, B., & Kelland, K. (2012). Study on Monsanto GM corn concerns draws skepticism. Reuters: Ed UK, 20.

Huesing, J., & English, L. (2004). The impact of Bt crops on the developing world.

Pringle, P. (2003). Food, Inc.: Mendel to Monsanto-the promises and perils of the biotech harvest. Simon and Schuster. com.

Shafer-Landau, R. (2012) The Fundamentals of Ethics, Second Edition. Oxford University Press.201-203, 192,

Séralini, G. E., De Vendômois, J. S., Cellier, D., Sultan, C., Buiatti, M., Gallagher, L., ... & Dronamraju, K. R. (2009). How subchronic and chronic health effects can be neglected for GMOs, pesticides or chemicals. International journal of biological sciences, 5(5), 438.