2 min

A tribute to Axel Kahn

The passing of Axel Kahn: the four research institutes, CIRAD, IFREMER, INRAE and IRD, pay tribute to the late President of their Joint Ethics Advisory Committee.

Published on 06 July 2021

illustration A tribute to Axel Kahn
© INRAE, Bertrand Nicolas

Axel Kahn put ethics at the very heart of successful environmental transition efforts...he brought discipline, vision, enthusiasm and humanity

It was with great sadness that the CEOs of INRAE, CIRAD, IFREMER and IRD and their teams learned on Tuesday, 6 July, of the passing of Professeur Axel Kahn, President of the Joint Ethics Advisory Committee [1] that covers all four research institutes - a role he first took on in 2016. Over recent years Axel Kahn lent significant support to research through the expert opinions issued by the committee he chaired with discipline, vision, enthusiasm and humanity. The institutes' study areas — soil, water, agriculture, the ocean, biodiversity — deal with global public goods that this leading geneticist firmly defended. In guiding this shared committee on key themes for society, Axel Kahn put ethics at the very heart of successful environmental transition efforts.

During his previous term of office (2016-2020), the Ethics Committee dealt with three subjects submitted to it by the authorities, i.e.  one on the ethical implications for research of  major international agreements, such as those in 2015 on the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) and climate; along with two other topics on the ethical issues raised by the genome editing of plants on the one hand, and animals, on the other. Mindful of the need for research to be as closely linked as possible to public expectations and in view of a world undergoing profound changes, during the pandemic Axel Kahn wanted to open a new area of thought on the theme of human needs, natural resources and protection of the biosphere as a global good.

In early 2021, when he agreed to renew his term of office for another four years, Axel Kahn explained to the CEOs the opportunities and innovations he intended to focus on, such as launching wider distribution of the Committee's opinions to the general public to ensure broader attention to key issues of society and being more attentive to the ethical expectations and questions of the staff of the four research agencies.

Philippe Mauguin, Valérie Verdier, Elisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin and François Houllier and all the scientific units within their institutes will support the Joint Ethics Advisory Committee's members in ensuring that Axel Kahn's commitments will be respected and that ethics will continue to guide “discussions about the right path and its values” as he liked to say.


[1] The Joint INRAE-CIRAD-IFREMER-IRD Ethics Advisory Committee examines ethical issues brought about by research, in France and abroad, in the areas of food, agriculture, the ocean, the environment, and sustainable development, particularly those that concern the relationships between science and society.


The members of the Ethics Committee shared by INRAE, IFREMER, CIRAD and IRD were grieved to learn of the passing of Axel Kahn, their President, on 6 July. They were guided by his high vision, humanism, and committed discours in all the work they carried out under his stewardship. They admired his sometimes contradictory qualities, that is to say, his fierce enthusiasm and sense of duty, his resolute ideas and attentiveness to a collegial approach to work, his fondness for speaking and sense of action. They will long recall his final message to them, which was to encourage responses to the newest questions through "good food for thought", which he knew how to elicit better than anyone else.  That is what will guide their efforts in the future, in keeping with his memory and his life's work.

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