The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


U.S. Social Movements Opposing Agricultural Biotechnology


Ann Reisner, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign





The United States has been seen as the central player in advocating the adoption of genetic engineered agricultural products worldwide. United States government agencies, U.S. Colleges of Agriculture, and the U.S. agricultural industry have generally been in favor of agricultural biotechnology development, arguing that these developments are not substantively different from other agricultural seed and breed developments. As such, the infrastructure of the agricultural sector in the United States has generally promoted biotechnology development. In this context, U.S. opposition to biotechnology in the food and fiber system is particularly important, since U.S. opponents to biotechnology development have a unique and powerful access to U.S. publics and politics. In this context, it is a particularly interesting question to ask whether a movement could develop against agricultural biotechnology in the United States. The answer this paper develops is that, to some degree, a movement has already started against genetic engineering in the food and fiber system and, in another sense; the movement is just waiting to happen. To develop, a movement needs a frame that suggests that a direction in society is either wrong or dangerous and organization(s) or network(s) willing to invest time and resources in organizing to oppose this direction. To examine what groups, if any, are likely to oppose biotechnology in agriculture, the paper first reviews the ideological stances of the major U.S. movements in the last two centuries. This review generally shows that an unusually broad range of ideological perspectives could potentially define genetic engineering in agriculture as an issue that is important to address. The next section uses two different means to look at groups that might oppose biotechnology in agriculture. The first examination is of a coalition of movement organizations that have publicly identified themselves as opposing biotechnology. The purpose of this examination is to determine what types of movements predominate in the debate against biotechnology. The next examination is of the leading advocacy groups in the U.S. for all of the important movements in the United States. These movements include civil rights, feminist, consumer, peace, student, health, environmentalists and animal rights. Each type of movement is examined for their position to determine what types of social movement groups would be likely to and what groups have taken a stand against agriculture biotechnology. The essay concludes that there are an unusually large variety of movement types from many different ideological perspectives opposing genetic engineering in agriculture, suggesting the possibility of a coalition among movement types.


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