Deep Structure and the Problem of Monopoly in Agricultural Biotechnology
The heredity values of specially bred strains of plants and animals are as real as the seemingly more concrete values of land or goods. Potent economic values run through generation after generation as persistently and as irresistibly as the river runs from its many springs to the sea. Unseen carriers of heredity determine whether the product shall be large or small, of high or low quality, lovely or homely. Their value to the nation is far above that of gold. Gladly we pay high prices for new “blood” in plants or animals because through the sure and potent agency of heredity the enhanced values continue during succeeding years. Heredity is a force more subtle and more marvelous than electricity. Once generated it needs no additional force to sustain it. Once new breeding values are created they continue as permanent economic forces. “Heredity: Creative Energy, ” American Breeders Magazinei, 1910
In their opening editorial for the spring 1910 issue of American Breeders Magazine, Willet Hays and his staff offered a grand vision of heredity as a productive force. In their view, and presumably in the view of most members of the American Breeders Association, the new science of breeding and genetic improvement promised a sort of second industrial revolution for agriculture—a qualitative advance beyond efforts to improve productivity through mechanization and the application of fertilizers and other exogenous inputs. As breeding values were transformed into property rights, they became key vehicles for capital accumulation and, more broadly, for the industrialization of agricultural systems. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, more than one hundred years after the rediscovery of Mendel's work on inheritance, the application of the new biotechnologies promises to push this logic of intensification further than Hays and his colleagues likely ever imagined.
A professor of agriculture at the University of Minnesota and later undersecretary of agriculture, Hays was the founding secretary and guiding force behind the American Breeders Association (ABA). Founded in 1903 and composed of commercial breeders, scientists from agricultural colleges and