Philosophers pan agricultural genetic modification

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In 1999, the eminent journal Science published a special issue on plant biotechnology, which, according to Article 2 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, concerns the use of living organisms for the making of products with specific uses. Titled “The Plant Revolution” by Abelson and Hines, the Introduction to this special issue recites the glory of plant biotechnology, the many achievements and benefits of plant engineering for its capacity to deliver (questionably) healthier foods, and, most crucially, its contribution to global food security.

The story emerging from recent scientific research reminds us of how the plants themselves act by detecting shapes, colors, smells, sounds, and making accurate behavioral choices. Here are only a very few examples.

Plants tell stories of light, darkness and all shades in between, because it is through light that they get a sense of their neighborhood and it is by monitoring the light as well as the shadow cast by another plants that they are able to determine who is growing next to them and direct their own growth.

Plants also share stories of volatile affairs, of attractions and reactions based on an intricate chemical vocabulary that speaks to our very own noses and it is irresistible poetry for the olfactory receptors of many other animals.

And plants tell further stories of touchy feelings, like those expressed by the sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica that responds to mechanical disturbances like touch by folding its leaves and even ‘playing dead’ by drooping when disturbed as part of a defensive behavioural repertoire aimed at discouraging potential predators.

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Plants remember what they have learned through their experiences and, like all animals, they use the learning process to adapt and flourish into the future.

Together with other numerous stories that plants tell us about themselves, these are certainly not the signs of insensitive object-like organisms. So the question that emerges is this: How can we ethically justify, promote, and financially subsidize the use of plants in the context of plant biotechnology and bioengineering, when the premises of this scientific endeavor are rooted in the erroneous view of plants as insensitive objectified organisms?

The development of plant bioengineering, particularly genetically modified (GM) plant research, is an emotionally charged issue in our societies. Yet, the growing scientific evidence demonstrating that plants are highly sensitive organisms, rather than mere objects, can offer a detached and unequivocally clear resolution to a much-heated issue. It is based on the state of this current knowledge that the scientific method prompts us to rectify our approach by de-objectifying plants and hence, no longer granting scientific legitimacy to GM research on plants.

Read the full, original blog: Which Plant Revolution Would You Opt For?

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