Farming ethics in practice: from freedom to professional moral autonomy for farmers

Agriculture and Human Values 33 (2):403-414 (2016)
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Food production, water management, land use, and animal and public health are all topics of extensive public debate. These themes are linked to the core activities of the agricultural sector, and more specifically to the work of farmers. Nonetheless, the ethical discussions are mostly initiated by interest groups in society rather than by farmers. At least in Europe, consumer organizations and animal welfare and environmental organizations are more present in the public debate than farmers. This is not how it should be. First, because consumers often cannot but rely on agriculture. Second, because recent research shows that farmers have moral beliefs and convictions that appear to be broader than economic considerations and that are—to a certain extent—specific to their profession. This raises the question how to make input from farmers operational in the public debates on the future of farming. We discuss one option: entrusting farmers with professional autonomy concerning moral matters related to farming. We sketch the historical background of the current situation in which farmers are relatively silent on moral matters and we present some clear indications that farmers have values and moral beliefs that are relevant for the public debate. Next the concepts of professionalism and professional autonomy are discussed and applied to the practice of farming. Finally, we discuss the relevance and limits of professional moral autonomy for the agricultural profession. We close with an overview of what this moral autonomy implies for and requires from farmers in practice. We conclude that if some preconditions are met by farmers, then this type of moral autonomy can be relevant for farmers and for society, and contributes to the quality of the public debate on the future of farming.



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Author Profiles

Frans Stafleu
Utrecht University
Franck Meijboom
Utrecht University

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Principles of biomedical ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by James F. Childress.
Animal Liberation.Peter Singer (ed.) - 1977 - Avon Books.
Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action.David M. Rasmussen - 1993 - Philosophical Quarterly 43 (173):571.

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