Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents

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

7
Biotech Battles
Plants, Power, and Intellectual Property
in the New Global Governance Regimes
Kathleen McAfee

Biotechnology, along with closely related issues of food, farming, and intellectual property rights, has become a flashpoint in multilateral trade and environmental negotiations between developing nations, the United States, and Europe. Sharp disagreements about trade in genetically engineered products and about the patenting of living things have sparked disputes about the powers and scope of emerging institutions of global governance. Central to these controversies are tensions between the principles andjurisdictions of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and those of the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the new Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. In addition, there are contradictions within the biodiversity convention itself. The WTO, established in 1994, fosters marketbased regulation of biotechnology and genetic resources. The CBD, which was ratified in 1993, does this as well but also invokes environmental and social criteria for management of biodiversity and biotechnology.

Contrasting understandings of biotechnology's effects are pivotal in these disputes. New agricultural biotechnologies promise control over the traits and reproduction of food crops and livestock. Advocates of crop genetic engineering argue that transgenic crops can increase world food production while limiting environmental damage from agriculture. Their critics contend that claims about the precision and power of genetic engineering are dangerously exaggerated (McAfee 2003). Widespread adoption of transgenic crops would at best permit only temporary foodproduction increases, they say, and would endanger agricultural genetic diversity, the livelihoods of farmers, and the food security of countries that depend on food imports (compare, e.g., Altieri and Rosset 1999 and McGloughlin 1999).

Genomic mapping and molecular bioengineering have opened new

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