Guest post from Eve Potter, a health writer with an interest in the ethical debates that modern biology produces. In advance of the panda debate she looks at an environmental issue which she finds exciting but scary: biocontrol
Biological pest control essentially refers to the use of natural enemies to control pests. Various predatory mites or insects are used to control pests, or infection with a fatal bacterial disease.
Biological controls are often an effective alternative to the use of pesticides in eradicating certain unwanted and potentially damaging pests. But despite of our recognition that pest control is an effective solution to eradicate unwanted vermin, human control of pests has not been void of ethical issues and criticisms.
The ethical concerns surrounding the human biological intervention of pest control was studied at the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, Massey University, New Zealand. The authors of the study assert that the ethical consideration of the impact that pest control has on people, animals and the environment, needs to be considered:
“The necessity of intervention, whether it involves killing animals or not, must be properly evaluated. Justification for pest control is only tenable if all of the negative impacts (harms) on people, animals and the environment are minimised and all of the positive impacts (benefits) are maximised as far as can be feasibly achieved.”
While different people have different ideas about what constitutes a moral concern, one of the leading ethical issues involving the biological manipulation of pest control companies is the controversy of the types of chemicals that are used for terminating pests. Diazmon, for example, is one of the most common chemicals used in pest control yet can be toxic to wildlife having been described as an “acute and chronic health hazard.”
Despite nerves and fears about controlling and manipulating nature, whether it is or isn’t ethically correct, I can only feel anticipation and excitement about the future of biological manipulation.
Related to these dilemmas, it would be interesting to hear any thoughts about the following questions:
Is it ever right to cull animals (whether this is through biological or conventional pest control)? This includes situations such as the culling of badgers to the eradication of rats from islands where they threaten seabirds. Should we use chemicals which are damaging to wildlife if they can improve human health, by killing disease vectors for example?
We will be discussing lots of issues of conservation ethics during our debate on ‘do we need pandas – choosing which species to save?‘
Eve is a health writer who rarely shies away from ethical or religious debate. She writes on numerous topics for a variety of publications, such as the advancements in clinical management and providing healthcare for addicts.