Neoliberal Globalism and the Biotechnology
Revolution: Economic and Historical Context
Agricultural biotechnology is poised to “make deserts bloom,” solve the world's food problems, and put an end to hunger. Or is it? Industry proponents and others advocated similar views in regard to the previous agricultural revolution—the Green Revolution of the 1970s. When agricultural biotechnology was still in the laboratory or field-trial stage of its development, in the 1980s and early 1990s, most observers considered that it would have a revolutionary effect on agricultural production and therefore a profound impact on agrarian social structures and the environment. The question remained whether such an impact would be positive or negative for society. Industry advocates and some scholars, such as D. Gale Johnson, editor of Economic Development and Cultural Change, continue to argue that the greatest problem with biotechnology is the political forces preventing its faster diffusion, and hence its ability to benefit the “millions of small and poor farmers who could gain if GMO [transgenic crop] varieties were available” (Johnson 2002, 4).
In sharp contrast with this view, critical observers tended to make rather ominous predictions about the impacts of biotechnology: agrarian social structures were to become further polarized, with fewer and larger farmers overwhelmingly dominating the scene while others bankrupted; negative environmental repercussions would overwhelm from such causes as rising use of agrochemicals; and biodiversity losses and increased crop vulnerability—prompted by increased crop homogeneity—raised food security concerns (Buttel, Kenney, and Kloppenburg 1985; Goodman, Sorj, and Wilkinson 1987; Kloppenburg 1988).
Given these polarized stances on biotechnology's potential, it is extremely important to offer an empirically based assessment of its actual impact on agrarian social structures now that several transgenic crops