Plant Rights

Should plants have rights?

Although numerous people may believe that plants having rights is an unusual way forward for society, it does have its economic and sociological benefits. This report will outline the current principles on this movement, the historical influences which have shaped it and which countries are choosing to implement them despite if it is for the protection of plants or to prevent scientific research.

A proposed piece of legislation has been devised in the US which outlines what kind of rights plants should have. When one thinks of plant rights it may conjure up many concepts of plant organisations taking farmers to court for ‘bad’ treatment. Obviously when proposing new pieces of legislation for plant husbandry, this would not be the case as plants do not have consciousness and are without a central nervous system; meaning that they cannot feel or think.

The proposed principles of plant rights outlines the right to water, a substrate to grow in, nutrition, white light, conversation of species, the right to breed and finally the right to protection against pest, disease and to a degree people. The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration. The basic principles may seem obvious to a plants survival yet over 20,000 plant species in the global perish per annum, due to not having access to these basic requirements costing the global economy between £1.23-3.10 trillion. If all plants were to be removed it is estimated that it would cost the global economy £300 trillion each year to create enough 02, new food supplies and raw materials for the world to maintain the current global population.

This notion is fast becoming more prevalent with governments and originations across the world as many of the major biomes like the Amazon rainforest are vastly being deforested for their natural sources and to make way for food production. There has already been a 65% decrease in surface area of the Amazon rainforest in the past 20 years. This may seem highly insignificant when compared to global starvation, the lack of medicine, freshwater and shelter. Nevertheless plants produce 35.2% of 02 within the atmosphere, are the major keystone players in the majority of the global terrestrial food chains which feeds both people and cattle.

Plant scientists as a multidisciplinary science have been studying plants for over 300 years ever since the discovery that plants extract minerals from their substrate, back in 1630 by Helmont a Flemish chemist. Now these scientists have uncovered that plants use photons or light particles to break up water molecules and use C02 as a source of carbon. No animal thus far can replicate this process. Together this forms the process of photosynthesis, the oldest method of bioenergy production which scientists have proven dates back to 3.5 billion years. Some paleobotanists believe this date to be even older at 4 billion years. As a comparison the Human species has been in existence for approximately 2 million years. Some plant species have evolved to grow in contaminated soils with various types of heavy metals and high sodium-chloride levels.

In essence the plant rights movement has developed from the animal rights movement which occurred over 40 years ago. Although the history of plant rights is relatively short the key driving force which started the movement came from a philosopher, Perla (1985) after publishing ‘Plant Liberation’. This book outlined his principles and how important plant conversation and ethics was to a modern day society. Five years after Perla’s publication, Beneschott (2012) formed the Plants Ethical Treatment Association. This association is comparable to the RSPCA which was formed back in 1824. This society when formed saw huge criticism and was highly ridiculed for its ‘nonsense’ approach to animals, until 1837 when Queen Victoria gave royal patronage. The UK had one of the first robust approaches to animal welfare and husbandry that the western world saw.

In recent history a team of Swiss scientists began what was known as the Green Power Revolution campaign in 2008. They conducted a variety of studies to determine whether or not a plant can ‘feel’ pain. After 10 years of research they concluded that they do however not in the same way animals do. Instead of using a nervous system plants use chemical messengers and receptors to send signals to a targeted area which requires them. These signals can only be passed on to neighbouring plants.

After this discovery the scientists teamed up with an anti-genetically modified organism’s campaign. This discussion was met with some concern but they believed a plant’s ‘dignity’ was being violated. The constitutional amendment came into being after the Federal Ethics Committee of the Swiss government had unanimously concluded that the right of plants should be recognised.

Conversely in the US plant rights advocates were concentrating their efforts on an ethical way primary food should be produced. The major principles to their campaign relates to the fact that plants possess a primitive form of awareness and that they have a capacity to react to certain stimuli, which they can engage in a simple form of biochemical communication, by means of chemical hormones release that can send signals to neighbouring plants.

This movement began over 30 years ago with the advent of genetic engineering. Within their principles is the fact that plants should not be genetically altered. This movement is led by Marder a plant biologist who had studied the discipline for 35 years. This campaign aimed to stop profit-seeking, multinational agricultural biotechnology companies that patented and sold a variety of genetically modified plant seeds at premium prices.

Currently there is only one major piece of legislation that deals with the issues of plant rights. The Swiss Bill of Rights for Plants 2008 outlines what the conditions of plant and plant parts should be for sale, protects plants from pest and disease, sets out strategies for an ‘acceptable’ plant husbandry and outlines what procedures should be taken to prosecute people who violate a plant’s ‘dignity’. Under this bill genetic modification of plants is prohibited. In the UK the Plant Health Act 1967 ensures that crop plants are protected from pest and disease, that plants for sale are up to a ‘good’ standard and that regular monitoring of nurseries and other producers occurs. Although this piece of legislation does meet two of the basic requirements of Perla’s (1985) principles of plant rights, it may not go far enough as there is still a large amount of wastage produced within the commercial aspect of UK horticulture. However this act does not go to the extreme to describe and to protect a plant’s ‘dignity’.

In Canada the Plant Production Act 1990 ensures protection from pest and disease, nurseries are licensed, yearly crop inspections and ensures that land based chemicals are strictly monitored and reviewed. This act like the above examples ensures that crop plants are not too badly affected by pests or diseases. Although this act may offer protection it does not include other factors such as people or from the environment. As climate change progresses, perhaps more protection is needed for crop species as food production and wild species for conversation still needs to be increased.

Within the US the National Plant Board monitors, carries out regular reviews and inspects nurseries and other producers of crop plants. They also uphold the Plant Protection Act 2000 and the Plant Variety Protection Act 1970. The latter one refers to plant breeder rights which are a form of copy right for breeders who develop new hybrids and varieties. Like most countries there are laws and acts to protect plant breeders, however these acts do not protect plants themselves. Finally in Australia the Plant Health Act 2009 legislates the statutory control of pest and diseases, monitors plant passports, crop production, conditions of plants for sale and finally the packaging and transport of plants. Unlike other pieces of legislation this act goes further compared with the others as it legislates against ‘bad’ transport and storage.

From this review it is clear that there are many acts and pieces of legislation which do in fact protect plants against pests, diseases and to a degree people. Although the majority of these acts meet 2 to 3 basic requirements for plants they do not go far enough to converse or to fully protect the majority of plant species. Nonetheless these acts do not go far enough to describe plants as having the capacity to obtain ‘dignity’.

As seen from the examples in ‘Historical Influences’ plant rights supporters have used this new movement to prevent plants from being genetically modified. As the global population grows, so does the need for food and this should be the main reason why genetic engineering should be an option to help solve this issue. From the ‘Green Revolution’ which occurred back in the 1967-1978 intensive farming has made some great strides in improving food production. However it has now reached its limits and more is needed. In my opinion many plant activists are using plant ‘dignity’ as the excuse to prevent research and investment to going into genetic engineering. Many successful media scares together with public ignorance have created an atmosphere where people would vote against genetic manipulation yet accepted hybridising methods.

Personally ‘plant rights’ should focus on two key areas for example, the protection and suitability of whole populations such as rainforests and woodlands rather than commercial crops such as the ones sold at retailers. From a domestic point a view it would be inefficient and would require high amount of investment to focus on individuals who cannot water their plants correctly. The only way to resolve these problems would be public awareness campaigns such as better labelling. Although it is arguable that large populations are protected by various schemes such as National Park status or ran by a charity such as the Royal Hortilcutre Society, official recognition is required. It is curial that large populations are secured and are sustained in order to protect species for the future.

To sum up, supporters of plant rights believe that plants have an inherent worth which is completely separate from their usefulness to people. Plant rights are not just a philosophy it is a social movement that challenges society’s traditional view that all nonhuman species exist solely for human purpose. Some may say that plant rights demonstrates that western society has nothing much to concern itself about and is concentrating on insignificant issues, unlike the ones faced by less economically developed nations. As seen many campaigners of plant rights are using it to prevent research and development on genetic engineering. However in my opinion if plant right campaigners are to be taken seriously they should focused on conservation of species, conversation of the six major types of biomes and to improve the husbandry within industrial and domestic sectors.