Beyond the science of agricultural biotechnology corporate technology, law, and local control over food production

Date created: 
Agricultural biotechnology
Agricultural biotechnology—Social aspects
Genetic engineering—Social aspects
Agricultural innovations
Technology—Social aspects
Political economy
Food regime

Within ten years of their adoption in the mid-1990s, new agricultural biotechnologies have instigated dramatic physical and proprietary changes to agriculture in both the United States and Canada. A growing number of highly contentious lawsuits between farmers and agricultural biotechnology companies indicate that such changes may be socially revolutionary to agricultural production. Building on political economy and food regime perspectives, this dissertation asks to what extent the proprietary aspects of these technologies are reorganizing production in these countries, and what effect, if any, such reorganization has on the amount of control producers have over agricultural production. The answer is derived through four case studies involving lawsuits over genetically modified seeds—two in Mississippi, United States, and two in Saskatchewan, Canada. Each of the two case study regions includes an analysis of court documents and interviews with 35-40 litigants and broader stakeholders. My findings indicate that while many producers feel the technology provides immediate benefits to their individual agricultural production, the social reorganization resulting from the existing legal framework is reducing producers’ control over their production process in many important ways, and suggest long-term concerns over such expropriation. This effect is more pronounced in Mississippi than in Saskatchewan. I argue that political economy of agriculture scholarship needs to be updated to incorporate this new legal element into its conceptual toolkit, which currently focuses on capital accumulation strategies in production and processing, not through legal mechanisms. Further, the case studies provide evidence that local acts of resistance, legal and otherwise, are having an impact on the nature and extent of the technology’s adoption in both regions. Therefore, the food regime perspective—a historical and geopolitical conceptualization of the advance of capitalism specific to food—needs to be re-conceptualized to adequately take into account the role of activities within nations, such as in the legal arena, and their effect on the shaping of the global food regime. I argue that the shape of this regime is contingent on contested features, and concerns over declining state autonomy in global agriculture need to be qualified accordingly.

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Copyright remains with the author
Senior supervisor: 
Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology - Simon Fraser University
Thesis type: 
Thesis (Ph.D.)