Exporting Crop Biotechnology:
The Myth of Molecular Miracles
It is often asserted that genetically engineered crops can prevent a looming crisis of global agricultural productivity. Enthusiasts assert that these new, transgenic crops—varieties containing genes introduced in the laboratory—are essential to produce sufficient food for a burgeoning world population, and that they can avert ecological damage from the expansion of agriculture (Pardey 2001; Borlaug and Carter 2005; BIO 2005). The U.S. government, in cooperation with agribusiness interests, actively promotes this idea. Such arguments for a biotechnology-based solution to food insecurity can be dangerously misleading. The actual performance of transgenic crops has been mediocre, at best (see Chaps. 7 and 8, this volume). In the United States, their productivity has not generally been higher than that of conventional varieties, nor have they allowed reduced use of pesticides, as explained below.
Nevertheless, advocates of crop genetic engineering commonly assume that European and U.S. farm technologies, regulatory practices, and food-producing systems are not only superior but also universally applicable. As I have argued elsewhere, many proponents of a geneticengineering solution to hunger make use of idealized conceptions of molecular biology and exceptional examples of genetic engineering successes (McAfee 2003a). Most contributions to international biotechnology policy literature do recognize that transgenic crops cannot be adopted easily and without risk in all parts of the world. Many authors, however, focus on what they see as deficits in the institutions and personnel of “less developed” countries. If these lacks can be remedied by means of scientific and legal training and other so-called capacity building, they reason, then Latin America and other regions will be able to share in the expected benefits of transgenic crops.