While it is true that there is to a first approximation
nothing that one can do with transgenic agriculture that could not
be done with traditional plant breeding, there is no denying that
recombinant DNA is MUCH faster.
This to me is the crux of the ethical issue. Not what, or
even why, but how fast. It would presumably take a very long time
to breed arctic fish with strawberries to get frost resistant
strawberries (or more likely, to select over umpteen generations
of strawberries for the same trait).
Now one might argue that the speed of recombinant research
has two dangers:
1) The rest of the ecosystem is not changing as fast to
modify itself so as to maintain some kind of ecological "balance."
Furthermore, scientists may be slower to understand ecological impact
than they are in developing new organisms.
2) The human race as a whole (or national governments, or
individuals) is slow to reach consensus on ethical issues (i.e.
religion, abortion, the creation of new species, etc.) Science
should slow its pace of discovery to allow Ethics to catch up.
There are excellnt counterpoints, but I will allow others
to continue the dialectic.
Dept. of Molecular Biotechnology
University of Washington
roach at u.washington.edu