Nature News is reporting that the Swiss government's ethics committee on non-human biotechnology has issued guidelines instructing researchers how to avoid offending the dignity of plants. If their projects are ruled as affronts to plants, their funding will be pulled.
What might constitute undignified interference with plants?
The committee has created a decision tree presenting the different issues that need to be taken into account for each case. But it has come up with few concrete examples of what type of experiment might be considered an unacceptable insult to plant dignity. The committee does not consider that genetic engineering of plants automatically falls into this category, but its majority view holds that it would if the genetic modification caused plants to 'lose their independence' - for example by interfering with their capacity to reproduce. The statement has confused plant geneticists, who point out the contrast with traditional plant-hybridization technologies, for example in roses, which require male sterility, and the commercial development of seedless fruits.
Let's forget modern biotechnology. What about such egregious violations of vegetal dignity as grafting cabernet sauvignon shoots to alien American grape rootstock? And might not hybridization be considered forced plant miscegenation? Also, what could be worse for plant "independence" than domestication? After all, domesticated plants can't thrive without human nurturing. We've turned such crops as corn, wheat, oats, potatoes, and tomatoes into photosynthetic slaves. Finally, what could be more outrageously disrespectful to chlorophyll-kind than being eaten by people? The horror, the horror!