An ethical and societal analysis for biotechnological methods in plant breeding

Louwaars, Niels; Jochemsen, Henk


Technological developments in plant breeding, notably cisgenesis and gene editing, require a rethinking of biotechnology policies. In addition to legal debates about the definition of genetic modification in the Cartagena Protocol and at national and supra-national levels, and debates about the safety of the resulting products for mankind and environment, discussions are ongoing in society concerning ethical and societal questions. In this paper, we analyse the main ethical issues that need to be taken into account when evaluating contemporary plant breeding techniques. After a brief description of the state of the art in plant breeding, we discuss these main ethical issues. We take Consequentialist, Deontological and Virtue ethics as bases of our analysis. This results in a generally positive approach to gene editing, but also highlights several concerns, predominantly used by particular groups in society. This leads to a moral incentive toward transparency and options for operationalizing consumer choice.