It is generally accepted that transgenesis can improve our knowledge of natural processes, but also leads to agricultural, industrial or socio-economical changes which could affect human society at large and which may, consequently, require regulation. It is often stated that developing countries are most likely to benefit from plant biotechnology and are at the same time most likely to be affected by the deployment of such new technologies. Therefore, ethical questions related to such biotechnology probably also need to be addressed. We first illustrate how consequentialist and nonconsequentialist theories of ethics can be applied to the genetically modified organism debate, namely consequentialism, autonomy/consent ethics (i.e. self-determination of people regarding matters that may have an effect on these people) and virtue ethics (i.e. whether an action is in adequacy with ideal traits). We show that these approaches lead to highly conflicting views. We have then refocused on moral ‘imperatives', such as freedom, justice and truth. Doing so does not resolve all conflicting views, but allows a gain in clarity in the sense that the ethical concerns are shifted from a technology (and its use) to the morality or amorality of various stakeholders of this debate.

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