Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents

Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents

Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents

Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents


"This collection is a comprehensive approach in two senses: in capturing the institutional, social, and cultural dimensions of biotechnology, and in emphasizing the contingencies of biotechnology stemming from power relations within the industry and within society at large."--Philip McMichael, author of "Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective

""Engineering Trouble addresses an important and timely issue of significant interest to social scientists and policy makers. The authors cover the range of political, economic, social, and moral forces which are both shaping and being shaped by this new technology."--William Lacy, coauthor of "Plants, Power, and Profit: Social, Economic, and Ethical Consequences of the New Biotechnologies


In September 2000, the business section of the New York Times ran a frontpage story about a new problem in the nation's food supply. A new genetically engineered (GE) corn containing the protein CrygC had been found in several nationally sold brands of corn tacos (Pollack 2000). Although the corn, known as StarLink, had been approved for use in animal feed and in industry, it had not been approved for human consumption. Yet when a group of social activists hired an Iowa-based company to test the tacos, there it was.

What seemed at first to be just another bump in the history of biotechnology turned out to have enormous repercussions. In addition to ending up in the U. S. food supply, where it wreaked havoc, the genetically engineered corn found its way into the food systems of many other countries in which it had also not been approved. Tensions over trade in GE agricultural products flared, and key U. S. agricultural importers, such as Japan and South Korea, began rejecting shipments of U. S. corn on the grounds that they were contaminated with StarLink. When U. S. agricultural importers began to seek non-GE sources of corn from such countries as Brazil and China, U. S. farmers and the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) panicked about the major market losses that would inevitably result.

In the U. S. heartland, where most of the corn had been grown, the contamination problem exploded in another way. The company that produced the seed, Aventis CropScience, tried to blame farmers for not following proper planting procedures and not taking adequate care to keep StarLink corn separate from their conventionally grown crops. Angered and offended, farmers charged that the company had not properly informed them about how to raise and segregate the corn. Both groups were deeply concerned about the liability for losses associated with StarLink. The inci-

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