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Looking for moral responsibility in ownership: a way to deal with Hazards of GMOs

By Z. Robaey

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Until now, the debates around genetically modified seeds in agriculture have converged towards two main issues. The first is about hazards that this new technology brings about, and the second is about the ownership of seeds and the distribution of their economic benefits. In this paper, I explore an underdeveloped topic by linking these two issues: how ownership shapes the distribution of moral responsibility for the potential hazards of genetically modified seeds. Indeed, while ownership is debated in terms of economic rights and hazards in terms of "good" or "bad" science, no one has looked at whether or not we could and should ascribe and distribute moral responsibility for hazards based on ownership of genetically modified seeds. I argue that we should. Using the notion of ownership as a bundle of rights, I argue that from a moral perspective, the genetically modified seed has several owners at the same time. Although different owners may not have the same economic rights over the seed, they all have a moral responsibility, possibly to varying degrees, for the potential hazards brought about by the seed. Secondly, I argue that, as long as a seed carries the character trait that was intentionally modified, then it calls for moral responsibility. All in all, I formulate a way for linking issues of ownership and hazards of genetically modified seeds in agriculture through the concept of moral responsibility.

Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 28
Issue 1
Pages 43-56
ISBN/ISSN 0893-4282
Publisher Springer
DOI 10.1007/s10806-014-9517-8
Language English
Author Address Department of Values, Technology and Innovation, Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology, Jaffalaan 5, 2628BX Delft,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Agriculture
  3. Economics
  4. Genetic engineering
  5. Hazards
  6. peer-reviewed
  7. Plants
  8. seeds
  9. transgenics
  10. uncertainties
  1. peer-reviewed