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Seeds, Science, and Struggle

Seeds, Science, and Struggle: The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops

Abby Kinchy
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Seeds, Science, and Struggle
    Book Description:

    Genetic engineering has a wide range of cultural, economic, and ethical implications, yet it has become almost an article of faith that regulatory decisions about biotechnology be based only on evidence of specific quantifiable risks; to consider anything else is said to "politicize" regulation. In this study of social protest against genetically engineered food, Abby Kinchy turns the conventional argument on its head. Rather than consider politicization of the regulatory system, she takes a close look at the scientization of public debate about the "contamination" of crops resulting from pollen drift and seed mixing. Advocates of alternative agriculture confront the scientization of this debate by calling on international experts, carrying out their own research, questioning regulatory science in court, building alternative markets, and demanding that their governments consider the social and economic impacts of the new technologies. Kinchy focuses on social conflicts over canola in Canada and maize in Mexico, drawing out their linkages to the global food system and international environmental governance. The book ultimately demonstrates the shortcomings of dominant models of scientific risk governance, which marginalize alternative visions of rural livelihoods and sustainable food production.The hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30557-0
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    I am pleased to present the eighth book in the Food, Health, and the Environment series. This series explores the global and local dimensions of food systems, and examines issues of access, justice, and environmental and community well-being. It includes books that focus on the way food is grown, processed, manufactured, distributed, sold, and consumed. Among the matters addressed are what foods are available to communities and individuals, how those foods are obtained, and what health and environmental factors are embedded in food-system choices and outcomes. The series not only concentrates on food security and well-being but also regional, state,...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. 1 Introduction: Genes Out of Place
    (pp. 1-24)

    Alfalfa is not typically a big news story, even though it is among the top four crops produced in the United States. It is a perennial grass, mostly grown to make hay for cows—one of the major inputs to the dairy industry that remains largely invisible to consumers. But in 2010, as the Supreme Court prepared to rule on a case involving a type of alfalfa that had been genetically altered to tolerate herbicides, the low-profile plant began to grab headlines. The case revolved around an important question: What is the right way for the government to assess and...

  7. 2 Free Markets, Sound Science
    (pp. 25-48)

    Canada and Mexico are two very different countries, with distinct cultures, agricultural traditions, landscapes, and levels of economic development. Nevertheless, the opponents of GE crops in each country face remarkably similar resistance to the possibility of democratic debate about the social implications of biotechnology. Advocates of GE crops in both places frequently argue that decisions about whether to commercialize GE seeds and foods should be based on a scientific assessment of their effects on human health and the environment, not political considerations about how they will impact farmer livelihoods, rural communities, international trade relations, or the structure of the food...

  8. 3 The Maize Movement and Expert Advice
    (pp. 49-74)

    In March 2004, environmentalists and maize producers converged on the Mexican city of Oaxaca, holding a protest at a public symposium in which a panel of esteemed scientists was to address the topic of GE maize and biodiversity. The demonstrators crowded into the conference room and proceeded to take control of the microphone, presenting hours of testimony. The activists voiced their opposition to GE maize through protest signs and theatrical interventions, such as the placement of colorful mosaics of maize on the floor. While, as one advisory group member put it, some of the speakers seemed to be “crazed Americans...

  9. 4 The Politics of Biosafety Monitoring
    (pp. 75-100)

    Since the early 1990s, biodiversity protection has been a key international priority, enshrined in UN agreements such as the CBD and its supplement, the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol.¹ Both international agreements establish the importance ofmonitoringbiodiversity in order to protect it. These agreements provide little guidance on how to monitor or how such monitoring might lead to biodiversity protection. Nevertheless, the monitoring of GE plants released into the environment is now widely considered to be an important component of environmental governance in areas with high levels of biodiversity (Pearson 2009).

    Tracking the spread of GE material through a population is...

  10. 5 Patents on Out-of-Place Genes
    (pp. 101-126)

    Throughout this book, I have argued that conflicts over GE crops are not merely disagreements about the scientific evidence of risk. Rather, they are disputes about the social order:What kind of agriculture do we want?Nowhere is this more obvious than in contestations over intellectual property rights. Social scientists have been attentive to the various court rulings that, over the past thirty years, have established the legal right to patent transgenes and, in some countries, whole transgenic organisms. Kloppenburg ([1988] 2005) and Scott Prudham (2007), among others (e.g., Mascarenhas and Busch 2006), have convincingly argued that patent rights for...

  11. 6 Protecting Organic Markets
    (pp. 127-152)

    The public rejection of GE foods, in places as varied as the European Union, Brazil, and Japan, has limited the global adoption of GE seeds, while simultaneously creating new opportunities to market non-GE foods.¹ In some countries, labels are required on foods containing GE material. Additionally, certified organic products, grown without GE seeds or other inputs, have captured a growing share of the global food market.² Farmers who produce non-GE crops are vulnerable, though, given the difficulty of avoiding unwanted contamination with GE material. In Saskatchewan, Canada, while most farmers were adopting herbicide-resistant canola, some organic farmers took advantage of...

  12. 7 Conclusion: Science and Struggles for Change
    (pp. 153-164)

    In a classic study of the social implications of technology, political philosopher Langdon Winner cautioned against the perils of contemporary discussions about risk. He observed that social critics and activists frequently turn to discourses about dangers to the body in order to stimulate popular protest. “It is clear,” Winner (1986, 141) wrote, “that alarms about particular hazards will engage the public’s imagination where more ambitious, general criticisms do not. Hence, the politics of hazards often becomes a strategic complement for or even an alternative to the politics of social justice.” When the discourse of risk displaces demands for social justice,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 165-180)
  14. References
    (pp. 181-210)
  15. Index
    (pp. 211-219)