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Paul B. Thompson

Paul B. Thompson

W. K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics

Michigan State University
526 S. Kedzie Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824


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Paul B. Thompson holds the W. K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. He formerly held positions in philosophy at Texas A&M University and Purdue University. His research has centered on ethical and philosophical questions associated with agriculture and food, and especially concerning the guidance and development of agricultural technoscience. This research focus has led him to undertake a series of projects on the application of recombinant DNA techniques to agricultural crops and food animals. Thompson published the first booklength philosophical treatment of agricultural biotechnology in 1997 and revised in 2007, and has traveled the world speaking on the subject, delivering invited addresses in Egypt, Thailand, Taiwan, Mexico, Israel and Jamaica, as well as a number of European countries. In addition to philosophical outlets, his work on biotechnology has appeared in technical journals including Plant Physiology, The Journal of Animal Science, Bioscience, and Cahiers d’Economie et Sociologie Rurales. He serves on the United States National Research Council’s Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Council and on the Science and Industry Advisory Committee for Genome Canada. Thompson’s new work focuses on nanotechnology in the agrifood system.

In addition to his research on biotechnology, Thompson has published extensively on the environmental and social significance of agriculture. His 1992 book (with four coauthors) on U.S. agricultural policy, Sacred Cows and Hot Potatoes, was used as a textbook for U.S. Congressional agriculture staff, and won the American Agricultural Economics Association Award for Excellence in Communication. He has also published a number of volumes and papers on the philosophical and cultural significance of farming, notably The Spirit of the Soil: Agriculture and Environmental Ethics (1995) and The Agrarian Roots of Pragmatism (2000). In 2008, two edited collections appeared: What Can Nanotechnology Learn from Biotechnology: Social and Ethical Lessons for Nanoscience from the Debate over Agrifood Biotechnology and GMOs (edited with Ken David) and The Ethics of Intensification: Agricultural Technology and Cultural Change. A new manuscript entitled Sustainability and Agrarian Ideals is in production at the University Press of Kentucky. Thompson completed his Ph.D. studies on the philosophy of technology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook under the guidance of Don Ihde. He is married, has two grown children and enjoys nature walks as well as playing the guitar.

Paul conducts research on the ethical and epistemological dimensions of technical and regulatory standards. He has worked in an advisory capacity on private standards for farm animal welfare.