Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents

By Rachel A. Schurman; Dennis Doyle Takahashi Kelso | Go to book overview

4
Making Biotech History
Social Resistance to Agricultural Biotechnology
and the Future of the Biotechnology Industry
Rachel A. Schurman and William A. Munro

In retrospect, it seems incredibly naive, but it's the truth. We had real leadership; we had worked hard to do it. We had shown faith in this science when others were dubious, and it all seemed to be working. So we painted a big bull's-eye on our chest, and we went over the top of the hill.

Robert Shapiro, CEO of Monsanto, 2000

Over the last two decades, the life sciences industry has made enormous investments in biotechnology research and development; thrown tremendous energy into getting its genetically engineered (GE) crops approved, patented, and commercialized; and lobbied U. S. farmers and food producers to use them. For their part, the U. S., British, and other governments that envision the biotechnology sector as the wave of the future, and as a means of augmenting their national competitiveness, have strongly supported the industry and its efforts to commercialize (and normalize) these new technologies. They have devoted considerable sums of money to biotechnology research (Gottweis 1998; Kenney 1986), taken significant strides to deregulate the industry (Wright 1994; Kelso, this volume), and sought to promote the spread of U. S.-style intellectual property rights in the World Trade Organization (see the introduction to this volume). The U. S. government in particular has also promoted the dissemination of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries through the U. S. Agency for International Development (U. S. AID). 1

With so much economic and political muscle propelling them, it is not surprising that GE crops hit the ground running when they came onto the scene in the mid-1990s. But what is surprising is that the rapid growth in GE crop deployment has been matched by an equally remarkable (and perhaps historically unprecedented) proliferation of citizens' voices challenging the biotechnology industry on economic, environmental, cultural, and moral grounds. Indeed, long before transgenic crops made their way to the market, individuals and groups concerned about the dissemination

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