François Thoreau gets a position of Research associate from the FNRS at ULiège

François Thoreau, a graduate in law and political science, becomes a F.R.S.-FNRS Research associate ( Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research), within the research unit Cité (Faculty of Law, Politicial Science and Criminology) of the University of Liège in order to continue his research on the societal stakes of genetics in the evolution of animal breeding, in particular in cattle.


rançois Thoreau first worked on a project concerning human genetics at the GIGA (biomedical research center of the University of Liège). “When I arrived there, to my great surprise, cows were omnipresent,” explains the researcher. “You see them everywhere: on researchers' wallpapers, on pictures on the wall, or hear about them in interviews.” He then realizes that human health, animal health, and environmental health are part of the same problem, which is commonly referred to as “One Health.”

With his team of 7 researchers, François Thoreau is trying to understand all the societal issues behind genetics and cow breeding. It is a very interdisciplinary work, because the field is shaped by myriad issues concerning many fields including politics, science, technology, economics, society, environment, and health. 

For example, genomics is deeply implicated in environmental issues. Cows produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, when they ruminate. Cows are under public and political scrutiny for their contribution to climate change. However, the issue is controversial, and some, notably in the agricultural world, argue that methane is more volatile than CO2, which means that it will remain in the atmosphere for a shorter time. In addition, by grazing, cows sequester CO2 in the soil. In contrast to farmers, animal rights activists and vegan movements are against animal breeding practices associated with industrial agriculture. In this complex web of social actors, we have to consider the scientists who want to produce, thanks to genetics, an “eco-friendly” cow that produces less methane. Modern animal husbandry is thus at the center of many political debates. These debates are influenced by a changing political milieu, including the petrochemical lobbies that want to continue to sell their antibiotics. The farms in organic conversion are also reorienting their selection strategies by privileging rustic and versatile breeds rather than hyper specialized ones. 

François Thoreau and his team of researchers observe and describe these phenomena. Their goal is to translate into intelligible terms the societal stakes of breeding genetics. The challenge is to educate the issue and ask the right questions. The distant horizon of their research is to put an end to the relentless productivism that exhausts the animals' bodies, the environments in which they evolve, the farmers, the biodiversity, etc. We must reinvent animal breeding, because the current model is no longer sustainable. 

About François Thoreau

François Thoreau studied law at the University of Liège and completed a degree in political science. He then undertook additional studies in Maastricht in ESST (Science, Technology and Society Studies). From 2008 to 2013, François Thoreau completed his thesis at the FNRS on the scientific policies of nanotechnologies and their social, ethical, and legal issues. After obtaining his PhD, he did a post-doc at the University of Namur, then at the Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation in Paris and, finally, returned to the University of Liège. In October 2022, François Thoreau obtained his mandate of FNRS Researche associate at ULiège. After devoting much of his time to setting up research projects, “the impression I get is that I can start working now.

An article written by Lola Barnabé, intern at the Communication Dpt of the University of Liège

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