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Integrity and rights of plants: ethical notions in organic plant breeding and propagation

By E. T. L. van Bueren, P. C. Struik

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In addition to obviating the use of synthetic agrochemicals and emphasizing farming in accordance with agroecological guidelines, organic farming acknowledges the integrity of plants as an essential element of its natural approaches to crop production. For cultivated plants, integrity refers to their inherent nature, wholeness, completeness, species-specific characteristics, and their being in balance with their (organically farmed) environment, while accomplishing their "natural aim." We argue that this integrity of plants has ethical value, distinguishing integrity of life, plant-typic integrity, genotypic integrity, and phenotypic integrity. We have developed qualitative criteria to ethically evaluate existing practices and have applied these criteria to assess whether current plant breeding and propagation techniques violate the integrity of crop plants. This process has resulted in a design of a holistic, scientific approach of organic plant breeding and seed production. Our evaluation has met considerable criticism from mainstream (crop) scientists. We respond to the following questions: (1) Can ethics be incorporated into objective crop sciences?; and (2) What is the nature of the intrinsic value of plants in organic farming? We argue that criteria to take integrity into account can only be assessed from a holistic perspective and we show that a holistic approach is needed to design such ethical notions in a consistent way. The ethical notions have been further elaborated by formulating human responsibility and respect towards crop plants. Responsibility and respect can only be shown by providing crop plants the right to be nurtured and to express natural behaviour at all levels of integrity.

Date 2005
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 18
Issue 5
Pages 479-493
ISBN/ISSN 1187-7863
DOI 10.1007/s10806-005-0903-0
Language English
Author Address Louis Bolk Institute, Hoofdstraat 24, 3972 LA Driebergen, Netherlands.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Bioethics
  3. Biotechnology
  4. Breeding
  5. Ecological agriculture
  6. organic culture
  7. organic farming
  8. peer-reviewed
  9. Plants
  1. peer-reviewed