Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do Plants Have Feelings?

I always like to include a photo or two with my blog posts,  but I couldn’t find a single one that would be appropriate for today’s column.  Since daughter Bridget is a professional artist, I decided to include the painting above which always makes me smile. I hope it makes you smile, too.  

Back in 2008 I wrote a column about how the Swiss had amended their constitution to protect the dignity of plants.  A panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians added a new rule to the law known as the Gene Technology Act, establishing exactly how to prevent humans from humiliating the country’s flora.

Switzerland’s new  rule stated that vegetation has an inherent value and it is immoral to arbitrarily harm it.  Geneticists must consider whether they are disturbing the vital functions or lifestyle of the plants they are tinkering with.

For instance, one scientist, Dr. Keller, who wanted to do a field trial on wheat bred to resist a fungus, had to first explain to the government ethicists why the trial “wouldn’t disturb the wheat” and convince them that "it would not in any way mortify the wheat to be protected from the fungus.”

As long as a plant’s independence, its reproductive and adaptive abilities were insured, however, the rule stated that its dignity would be safeguarded, so Dr. Keller finally got  permission to plant the wheat.  Unfortunately a group opposed to genetic modification of crops invaded the test field and scythed down all the wheat.  How’s that for protecting the dignity of plants?

Since I considered the Swiss rule totally extreme, I went on the Internet yesterday to see if it was still in force.  When I Googled the Gene Technology Act  I found that Australia, France, Tasmania and many other countries have added the Act to their constitution.  There were way too many websites listed for me to read them all, so I never found out  which countries included a rule similar to Switzerland’s. 

Nowadays genetically modified organisms, GMOs,  have been scientifically proven to be environmentally safe, and are promising better, more abundant and cheaper foods, especially in poor countries.  The Swiss rule forces scientists who want to experiment in improve crops to go through just too many hoops to prove their efforts  won’t be breaking the law. 

If plants really have feelings, could you ever lop off the head of a blooming zinnia, or shred a cabbage for coleslaw?  Does it really destroy the dignity of seedless grapes to render them sterile? I'd love to eat a peach that no longer had fuzz, or a watermelon that didn't have seeds. 

There are still many people who are totally against GMO. I’m not one of them. As you readers know, however, I often treat my plants anthropomorphically.  I love talking to them, and like the idea that they have feelings.  I suspect that  corn stalks  who have experienced GMO are happily celebrating the fact that scientists are working to eliminate that ugly corn borer from invading their ears.

I once read  about an experiment performed by the Reverend Franklin Loehr,  a scientist and theologian, who planted flower seeds in two different beds. He gave each bed identical amounts of soil, sunshine and water.  He prayed over one of the beds every day, but left the other bed to the devil.  The church going flowers grew to gigantic proportions while the heretics barely bloomed. 

Now isn’t that what a green thumb is all about?  A love of growing things that communicates itself to the plants being cared for? I hope you fellow  gardeners will enjoy planting your flowers and vegetables this spring and speak kindly to each seedling as you nestle it into the soil.

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