Ethics of Pest Control

News — By on October 12, 2017 3:18 pm

Philosopher Dr Emily Parke from the Faculty of Arts is one of two University of Auckland academics who will be convening the first bioethics panel in New Zealand dealing with the ethical and social challenges involved in eradicating invasive predators.

The other is biologist and statistician, Dr James Russell.

The two are co-leading the panel of 11 people, which includes experts in genetics, law, indigenous world views and ecology, as well as a hunter and a psychologist.

The panel will advise on social and ethical issues relating to the Biological Heritage National Science Challengefunded project “High tech solutions to invasive mammal pest control”.

This is part of a larger endeavour to make New Zealand free of rats, stoats, and possums by 2050.

Emily says the eradication project is driven by the search for new technologies, some of which might be controversial, such as investigating potential toxins that are specific to particular species, or using genetic editing techniques to drive pest populations extinct.

“So we need to stop and reflect on the possible social dimensions of these,” she says.

“It’s impossible to talk about conservation issues without bringing values in,” she adds. “For example how do we define an invasive or pest species in the first place? And why might we prioritise one species over another?”

In an unusual teaching collaboration bringing together science and the arts, Emily and James are co-teaching a postgraduate course in the School of Biological Sciences dealing with ethical issues in biology.

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