VAST 210

Argiculture, Ethics and the Environment

Instructor: Megan Rothenberger

Office: 15 Kunkel

Office Phone: (610) 330-5459


This course may be used as an elective for the Environmental Science minor.

Course Description: What species recently surpassed brown rats as the world's most numerous mammals?

If you guessed humans, you are correct. The human population is growing exponentially and is projected to increase from 6.7 billion to 8-14 billion sometime during this century. Agriculture makes life possible. However, we live in a time when the priorities of our food production system are being questioned. It is becoming increasingly clear that many agricultural practices are detrimental not only to the environment but to human health. Our present methods of food production are most likely not sustainable, as they result in groundwater pollution, soil erosion, aquifer depletion, soil degradation, pesticide pollution, biodiversity loss, and other environmental stresses.

If our current agricultural system is no longer serving the best interests of the public, then what is our role in this system? Do we have a universal responsibility to support a different agricultural model, one that is not just about cheap food but about stewardship of the land and conservation of the resource base? Ethics is about choices, and agricultural ethics is about the choices we face and decisions we must make as we try to balance feeding the world's growing population with the need to protect our natural resources for future generations.

This VaST course will cover a broad spectrum of agricultural issues, including water and soil quality, pesticides, biotechnology, transgene escape, animal rights versus animal welfare, and organic and sustainable agriculture in both developed and developing nations. The course will enable identification of value conflicts and provide a framework for discussing them. Students will be encouraged to develop their own views as well as understand opposing viewpoints of ethical issues in agriculture. Open classroom discussion, field trips, case studies, and role-playing will all be used to achieve these objectives.