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This book explores the defeat of Monsanto’s genetically modified brand of wheat.

This book explores the defeat of Monsanto’s genetically modified brand of wheat.

Emily Eaton’s Growing Resistance and the politics of GM wheat

Article: Michael Chmielewski – Editor-in-Chief

Saskatchewan is known across Canada for its extensive wheat fields. The wheat bushel is even on the provincial flag. That’s why Emily Eaton’s new book, Growing Resistance: Canadian Farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat, is so pertinent. Emily Eaton is an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at the U of R.

The book, published in 2013, details the defeat of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) wheat by a Canadian led international coalition. Eaton’s book explores and explains the why of the matter. Why was it that GM wheat was blocked and opposed while other GM crops have not faced the same resistance from producers?

The book has drawn praise from many corners, and notably from Eric Darier of Greenpeace. The praise is justified, because Growing Resistance is an important and helpful study of the situation, and the U of R should be proud to have such work coming from its professors.

Eaton breaks the book down into five chapters: the premise, the regulation and promotion of biotechnology in Canada, “people-plant relationships in historical context,” the argument against GM wheat, the relation of market choice, and then a conclusion.

Because of its rare nature, essentially being a producer-led movement, and not a consumer one, the subject caught Eaton’s eye.

“The book is concerned with, well, first following the movement against Monsanto’s Roundup Ready wheat, which was a remarkable movement in my analysis, because it was producer-led and a lot of the politics around GMOs [Genetically Modified Organisms] are often led by consumer concerns around health and environmental issues,” said Eaton. “The book really looks at sort of the political economy of agriculture around biotechnology.”

This is very true, as Eaton, in her book’s theoretical approaches, elucidates the theories of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, theorist Karl Kautsky, Alexander Chayanov, and the “Mann-Dickinson” thesis, in relation to intersection of capitalism and agriculture. Eaton explains this in the case of Monsanto and this particular brand of wheat.

“So I guess the thesis is that Monsanto’s attempt at introducing Roundup Ready wheat was to, as the last chapter suggests, move farmers away having control over the production of food towards being consumers of Monsanto’s inputs, and having much less control over the conditions in which they produce food.”

She gives a great example of this in Growing Resistance.

“Monsanto can be understood as engaging in a process of appropriationism, transforming what used to be a farm practice of seed saving into an industrial and fully capitalist process.”

This appropriation relied on legal methods to “make it illegal for farmers to reproduce Monsanto’s seed in their fields.”

When asked what the challenges were for writing the book, Eaton explains that it was hard to get an interview from the Canadian Government on its “biotech policies.” Surprisingly, Monsanto proved easier to get on record.

“I was actually expecting it’d be most difficult to get Monsanto on record, because I thought they wouldn’t want to, because it had been so politicized that they wouldn’t want to reignite anything and they would be careful about how they were framing things, and I thought they would send me their PR person.”

But that didn’t happen, and Eaton was sent to an instrumental person in the development of the Roundup Ready wheat.

As to whether or not she will be as successful in gaining interviews in the future remains to be seen. Let’s hope so, because next Eaton is tackling oil, and as she put it, she’s “looking at it all.” Her research will explore the social, political, and environmental aspects of oil extraction in Saskatchewan, which “is now the second largest oil-producing province in the country.”

Growing Resistance is available at the U of R bookstore.

Image: Michael Chmielewski

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