Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents

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

6
The Global Politics of GEOs
The Achilles' Heel of the Globalization Regime?
Frederick H. Buttel

In early 1999, agricultural biotechnology seemed to be on a roll. Three years earlier, the World Trade Organization (WTO) had been established by the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA) and the larger WTO agreement contained a number of provisions favorable to the private biotechnology industry. The Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), for example, set forth the global intellectual property rights framework desired by multinational biotechnology firms. The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) stipulated that although member states could set their own standards for sanitary protection, the standards and measures had to be based on scientific evidence and could not be unjustified barriers to trade. The WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade also made it possible to challenge labeling practices on the grounds that they were technical barriers to trade (see Dunkley 2000 for a general overview of the provisions of the WTO agreement and von Schomberg 2000 for a discussion of how WTO provisions have affected the biotechnology industry and the prospects for genetically engineered crops). 1 In addition, the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) controversy in the United States had largely blown over by 1999, and even the successful attempts at labeling milk as BGH-free had largely ended (Buttel 1999).

From 1996 through the summer of 1999, herbicide-resistant soybeans were adopted in the United States more rapidly than any other agricultural technology in history. In the same period, Bt cotton and Bt corn in the United States and transgenic canola in Canada were not far behind. In the 1999 growing season, about 50 percent of U. S. soybean acreage and nearly 30 percent of U. S. corn acreage were devoted to genetically engineered

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