Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents

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

CONCLUSION
Recreating Democracy
Dennis Doyle Takahashi Kelso

“No one wants to eat his science fair experiment, ” chuckled the head of a major seafood marketing organization, asserting that well-informed consumers will be reluctant to embrace genetically engineered foods (interview by author, 1998). Another seafood industry leader, the president of a wildsalmon-processing company, went a step farther to argue that genetically engineered organisms are a bad idea because of their possible ecological effects, and he could hardly contain his enthusiasm about the opportunities to differentiate his natural product from the genetically engineered version: “As for marketing, bring 'em on!” (interview by author, 2000).

This confidence in retail-level resistance suggests that consumers will be key actors in constraining the adoption of genetically engineered foods. In that role, consumers, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), serve as imperfect surrogates for democratic institutions that have been slow to address the range of social issues associated with these new technologies. As Rachel Schurman and William Munro describe in this volume, a globally networked coalition of skeptics and opponents has argued tenaciously in favor of a cautious approach to these technologies. The current success of this resistance is all the more remarkable in light of the active regulatory and political support that some national governments have provided for commercial deployment of genetically engineered organisms.

As companies with interests in these products have sought “to capitalize on the wave of innovations and proprietary technologies associated with recombinant DNA techniques, ” changes in the intellectual-property regime and other elements of the legal framework have enabled rapid technology acquisition and concentration in a few multinational firms (Boyd, this volume). Critics charge that as companies have capitalized, government regulatory authorities have capitulated and thereby reduced opportunities for

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