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Bio-Hegemony: The Political Economy of Agricultural Biotechnology in Argentina*

  • PETER NEWELL (a1)

Abstract

This paper examines relations between the state and capital in Argentina with respect to agricultural biotechnology. Argentina is one of the world's leading exporters of genetically modified (GM) crops and is a key player in the global politics of biotechnology. Whereas in other parts of the world, including other countries in Latin America, active civil societies and some governments have rejected the technology, Argentina has adopted it as a central accumulation strategy. The desirability of this strategy has been secured in material, institutional and discursive arenas of power, producing a particular expression of ‘bio-hegemony’. Looking at the role of business in the political economy of agricultural biotechnology is revealing both of the extent and forms of corporate power and contributes to an understanding of hegemony in practice.

Síntese: Este artigo examina as relações entre Estado e o capital na Argentina no tocante à agricultura biotecnológica. A Argentina é um dos líderes mundiais em exportação de safras geneticamente modificadas (GM) e nas políticas globais acerca da biotecnologia é um participante chave. Enquanto em outras partes do mundo – inclusive em outros países latino-americanos – sociedades civis ativas e alguns governos têm rejeitado essa tecnologia, a Argentina a adotou como uma estratégia central de acúmulo. O atrativo dessa estratégia foi assegurado em fóruns de poder materiais, institucionais e discursivos, produzindo a expressão particular “biohegemonia”. Analisar o papel dos negócios na política econômica para a agricultura biotecnológica é revelador tanto sobre a extensão quanto às formas do poder corporativo, e contribui para um entendimento da hegemonia na prática.

Palavras-chave: agricultura, Argentina, biotecnologia, GMOs (Organismos Geneticamente Modificados), safras GM (Geneticamente Modificadas), soja, corporações multinacionais, Monsanto, Gramsci, hegemonia.

Resumen: Este artículo examina la relación entre el Estado y el capital en Argentina con respecto a la biotecnología agrícola. Argentina es uno de los principales exportadores de granos genéticamente modificados (GM) y juega un papel clave en la política global de la biotecnología. Mientras que en otras partes del mundo, como en otros países latinoamericanos, movimientos de la sociedad civil y algunos gobiernos han rechazado dicha tecnología, Argentina la adoptado como una estrategia central de acumulación. La viabilidad de tal estrategia ha sido afianzada en círculos de poder materiales, institucionales y discursivos, dando como resultado una particular expresión de “bio-hegemonía”. Al ver el papel de los negocios en la economía política de la biotecnología agrícola resultan reveladoras tanto la extensión como las formas de poder corporativo y contribuye al entendimiento de la hegemonía en la práctica.

Palabras clave: agricultura, Argentina, biotecnología, GMOs, granos GM, soya, corporaciones multinacionales, Monsanto, Gramsci, hegemonía

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1 Victor Peleaz and Wilson Schmidt, ‘Social Struggles and the Regulation of Transgenic Crops in Brazil’, in Kees Jansen and Sietze Vellema (eds.), Agribusiness and Society: Corporate Responses to Environmentalism, Market Opportunities and Public Regulation (London 2004), pp. 232–61; Fitting, Elizabeth, ‘The Political Uses of Culture: Maize Production and the GM Corn Debates in Mexico’, Focaal: European Journal of Anthropology, no. 48 (2006), pp. 1734; Jepson, Wendy, ‘Globalization and Brazilian Biosafety: The Politics of Scale over Biotechnology Governance’, Political Geography, vol. 21, no. 7 (2002), pp. 905–25; Third World Network, ‘US FTA likely to open Peru to GMOs?’, 2 October 2006, (TWN Biosafety Information Service, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Newell, Peter, ‘Trade and Biotechnology in Latin America: Democratization, Contestation and the Politics of Mobilization’, Journal of Agrarian Change, vol. 8, nos. 2–3 (2008), pp. 345–76.

2 On neo-Gramscian approaches in general, see Stephen Gill, (ed.), Gramsci, Historical Materialism and International Relations (Cambridge, 1993), and Adam Morton, Unravelling Gramsci: Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Economy (London, 2007). On the application to Latin America, see Morton, Adam, ‘Change within Continuity: The Political Economy of Democratic Transition in Mexico’, New Political Economy, vol. 10, no. 2 (2005), pp. 181202. In studies of global environmental politics, neo-Gramscian approaches have been developed by Levy, David and Newell, Peter, ‘Business Strategy and International Environmental Governance: Toward a Neo-Gramscian Synthesis’, Global Environmental Politics, vol. 3, no. 4 (2002), pp. 84101. In relation to biotechnology see also Loeppky, Rodney, ‘History, Technology and the Capitalist State: The Comparative Political Economy of Biotechnology and Genomics’, Review of International Political Economy, vol. 12, no. 2 (2005), pp. 264–86, and Peter Andrée, ‘The Genetic Engineering Revolution in Agriculture and Food: Strategies of the ‘Biotech Bloc’, in David Levy and Peter Newell (eds.), The Business of Global Environmental Governance (Cambridge MA, 2005), pp. 135–66.

3 The breakdown of interviews so far is as follows: government officials (8), corporate officials (7), academics and analysts (6), NGOs (3), journalists (2), scientists (1). In many cases the identity of interviewees is protected in order to ensure their anonymity, given the sensitive and controversial nature of some of the interview material.

4 Eduardo Trigo, Daniel Chudnovsky, Eugenio Cap and Andrés López, Los transgénicos en la agricultura argentina (Buenos Aires, 2002); Moisés Burachik and Patricia L. Traynor ‘Analysis of a National Biosafety System: Regulatory Policies and Procedures in Argentina’ (International Service for National Agricultural Research, Country Report no. 63, The Hague 2002); Ana María Vara, ‘Argentina GM Nation: Chances and Choices in Uncertain Times’ (NYU Project on International GMO Regulatory Conflicts, New York 2005).

5 Robert Falkner, ‘Genetic Seeds of Discord: The Transatlantic GMO Trade Conflict after the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety’, in Peter Phillips and Robert Wolfe (eds.), Governing Food: Science, Safety and Trade (Montreal, 2001), pp. 149–61; Glover, Dominic, ‘Monsanto and Smallholder Farmers: A Case Study in CSR’, Third World Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 4 (2007), pp. 851–67; Peter Newell, ‘Corporate Power and Bounded Autonomy in the Global Politics of Biotechnology’, in Robert Falkner (ed.), The International Politics of Genetically Modified Food (Basingstoke, 2006), pp. 67–85; Newell, Peter, ‘Biotech Firms, Biotech Politics: Negotiating GMOs in India’, Journal of Environment and Development, vol. 16, no. 2 (2007), pp. 183206.

6 Walter Pengue, Agricultura industrial y transnacionalización en América Latina: ¿La transgénesis de un continente? (Buenos Aires, 2005); Miguel Teubal and Javier Rodríguez, Agro y alimentos en la globalizacíon: una perspectiva crítica (Buenos Aires, 2002); Gerardo Otero, Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism and Biotechnology in Latin America (Austin, 2008).

7 Fitting, ‘The Political Uses of Culture’; Lehmann, Volker and Pengue, Walter, ‘Herbicide Resistant Soybean: Just Another Step in a Technology Treadmill?’, Biotechnology and Development Monitor, no. 43 (2000), pp. 1114; Jepson, ‘Globalization and Brazilian Biosafety’.

8 Grugel, Jean, ‘State and Business in Neo-liberal Democracies in Latin America’, Global Society, vol. 12, no. 2 (1998), pp. 221–35; Ernest Bartell and Leigh Payne (eds.), Business and Democracy in Latin America (Pittsburgh, 1995); Francisco Durand and Eduardo Silva (eds.), Organised Business, Economic Change and Democracy in Latin America (Miami, 1998); Celso Garrido (ed.), Empresarios y estado en América Latina (México DF, 1988); Martín Schorr, Industria y nación: poder económico, neoliberalismo y alternativas de reindustrialización en la Argentina contemporánea (Buenos Aires, 2004); Peter Birle, Los empresarios y la democracia en Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1997); Freels, John, ‘Industrialists and Politics in Argentina’, Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs, vol. 12, no. 3 (1970), pp. 439–54.

9 Ben Ross Schneider, Business Politics and the State in Twentieth-Century Latin America (Cambridge, 2004).

10 Clive James, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops (Ithaca, 2006).

11 90 per cent of applications for field trials have come from overseas companies: Burachik and Traynor, ‘Analysis of a National Biosafety System’.

12 Kathyrn Hochstetler, ‘The Multilevel Governance of GM Food in Mercosur’, in Falkner (ed.), The International Politics of Genetically Modified Food, pp. 157–74.

13 Daniel Chudnovsky, Los límites de la apertura: liberalización, reestructuración productiva y medio ambiente (Buenos Aires, 1996).

14 40.5 million tonnes of soya were harvested in 2005/06: see www.sagpya.mecon.gov.ar/

15 Emiliano Galli, ‘De la chaucha de soja al reactor nuclear de investigación’, La Nación, 4 January 2005.

16 Alejandro G. Elsztain, chief executive of Cresud, quoted in Vara, ‘Argentina GM nation’, p. 8.

17 Lilian Joensen, Stella Semino and Helena Paul, ‘Argentina: A Case Study on the Impact of Genetically Engineered Soya’ (Report for the Gaia Foundation, London, 2005).

18 SAgGPA, Plan estratégico para el desarrollo de la biotecnología agropecuaria 2005–2015 (Buenos Aires, 2004): see www.sagpya.mecon.gov.ar/new/0-0/programas/biotecnologia/pdf/PE.pdf

19 Interview with participant at the meeting from INTA, 8 November 2006.

20 Eduardo Trigo, Daniel Chudnovsky, Eugenio Cap and Andrés López, Los transgénicos en la agricultura argentina (Buenos Aires, 2002).

21 Alejandro Grimson and Gabriel Kessler, On Argentina and the Southern Cone: Neo-liberalism and National Imaginations (London, 2005).

22 Eduardo Trigo et al., Los transgénicos.

23 Greenpeace Argentina, ‘Desmontes S.A: Quiénes están detrás de la destrucción de los últimos bosques nativos de la Argentina’ (2006): available at www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/argentina/bosques/desmontes-s-a.pdf

24 Joensen et al., ‘Argentina’.

25 Ibid.; Report of Human Rights Ministry, ‘Las “Guardias Blancas” en Santiago’, 12 March 2003: www.malvenidos.com.ar/archivo/001/nota3.htm

26 ‘El lado criminal del boom sojero’, Vein-ti-tres, 23 November 2006.

27 On the power of landowners in the first half of the twentieth century see Peter Smith, Politics and Beef in Argentina (New York, 1969).

28 Grugel, ‘State and Business’, p. 227.

29 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York, 1971), p. 181.

30 Peter Newell, ‘Technology, Food, Power: Governing GMOs in Argentina’, in Jennifer Clapp and Doris Fuchs (eds.), Agro-Food Corporations, Global Governance, and Sustainability (Cambridge MA, 2009) pp. 253–84.

31 Matthew Crenson, The Un-Politics of Air Pollution (London and Baltimore, 1971).

32 Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, p. 423.

33 Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, p. 172.

34 John Holloway and Sol Picciotto (eds.), State and Capital: A Marxist Debate (London, 1978); Newell, Peter and Paterson, Matthew, ‘Climate for Business: Global Warming, the State and Capital’, Review of International Political Economy, vol. 5, no. 4 (1998), pp. 679703.

35 Newell, ‘Trade and Biotechnology in Latin America’.

36 Peter Andrée, ‘The Genetic Engineering Revolution in Agriculture and Food: Strategies of the Biotech Bloc’, in David Levy and Peter Newell (eds.), The Business of Global Environmental Governance (Cambridge MA, 2005), p. 137–38.

37 Herbert Gottweis, Governing Molecules: The Discursive Politics of Genetic Engineering in Europe and the United States (Cambridge MA, 1998), p. 264.

38 Gill, Stephen, ‘Globalisation, Market Civilisation and Disciplinary Neoliberalism’, Millennium, vol. 24, no. 3 (1995) pp. 399423; William Robinson, A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class and State in a Transnational World (Baltimore, 2004); Kees van der Pijl, Transnational Classes and International Relations (London, 1998).

39 Morton, Unravelling Gramsci, p. 113.

40 Gottweis, Governing Molecules; Newell, Peter, ‘Lost in Translation? Domesticating Global Policy on GMOs: Comparing India and China’, Global Society, vol. 22, no. 1 (2008), pp. 115–36.

41 Newell, Peter, ‘Globalisation and the Governance of Biotechnology’, Global Environmental Politics, vol. 3, no. 2 (2003), pp. 5672.

42 ‘Ventas argentinas de soja a China se acelerarán’, Revista 7, 11 November 2003: www.elpanamaamerica.com.pa/archive/11112003/finance12.shtml

43 Interview with Mónica L. Pequeño Araujo, Coordinadora de Proyectos Especiales en Biotecnología, Instituto Nacional de Semillas, 24 October 2006.

44 Interview with official from Ministry of Agriculture, November 2006.

45 Interview with official from Ministry of Agriculture, November 2006.

46 Interview with grain trader, Cargill, October 2006.

47 Interview with head of regulatory affairs, multinational corporation, October 2006.

48 Holloway and Picciotto, State and Capital.

49 Interview at CONABIA, November 2006.

50 Interview with biotechnology sector analyst, 26 October 2006.

51 Interview with Maria Laura Villa Mayor, lawyer, INASE, 24 October 2006.

52 Interview with researcher with agricultural trade policy institute, Buenos Aires, 2 December 2006; Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, ‘Terminator Seed Battle Begins: Farmers Face Billions of Dollars in Potential Costs’ (2006), available at www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=23.

54 ‘Lanzaron una nueva cámara semillera’, InfoCampo, 24–30 November 2006, p. 3.

55 Interview, Ministry of Agriculture, November 2006.

56 American Soybean Association, ‘South American soymeal imports frustrate U.S farmers’, press release, 30 August 2002.

57 Interview with IPR lawyer, Ministry of Agriculture, 10 November 2006.

58 Interview material, Secretary of Agriculture, November 2006.

59 Newell, ‘Lost in Translation’.

60 Rachel Nellen-Stucky and François Meienberg, ‘Harvesting Royalties for Sowing Dissent? Monsanto's Campaign against Argentina's Patent Policy’ (Berne, 2006): available at <www.evb.ch/cm_data/Artikel_Monsanto_Soya_Arg-EU_E_final.pdf>.

61 Misculin, Nicolas, ‘Monsanto loses Spanish court case on Argentine soy’, Reuters, 7 September 2007.

63 Peter Newell, ‘Technology, Food, Power’. For the argument about the weakness of business organisations in Argentina, see Schneider, Business Politics.

64 Greenpeace Argentina, ‘Lavagna, el empleado del mes de Monsanto’, 13 July 2004. http://www.greenpeace.org/argentina/bosques/lavagna-el-empleado-del-mes-d

65 Interview with personnel from Cargill, October 2006; interview with staff from DNMA, October 2006.

66 Interview with Mónica L. Pequeño Araujo, Coordinadora de Proyectos Especiales en Biotecnología, Instituto Nacional de Semillas, 24 October 2006.

67 Breslin, Shaun, ‘Reforming China's Embedded Socialist Compromise: China and the WTO’, Global Change, Peace and Security, vol. 15, no. 3 (2003), pp. 213–29.

68 Interview with senior regulatory affairs official of a multinational corporation, October 2006.

69 Interview with Ruben Ciani and Federico Alais, DNMA, Sección de Comercio Internacional, 26 October 2006.

70 Michael Lipskey, Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services (New York, 1980).

71 Interview, senior official, SENASA, November 2006.

72 Patrick van Zwanenburg, ‘Risk Assessment Policies: Differences across Jurisdictions: Argentina’ (ESTO Risk Assessment Policy Project, draft case study, April 2006), p. 20.

73 Newell, ‘Lost in translation?’

74 Erik Millstone and Patrick van Zwanenburg, ‘Food and Agricultural Biotechnology Policy: How Much Autonomy Can Developing Countries Exercise?’, Development Policy Review, vol. 21, no. 5–6 (2003), pp. 655–67.

75 Interviews with FAB director and other personnel, December 2006.

76 David Forgas (ed.), The Antonio Gramsci Reader (New York, 2000), pp. 380–1.

77 Gottweis, Governing Molecules, p. 264.

78 Ibid, p. 272.

79 Interview with leading industry association, October 2006.

80 SAgGPA, Introducción a las negociaciones internacionales en biotecnología agropecuaria (Buenos Aires, 2005).

82 Clarín, ‘Entre realidades y promesas’, Rural section, 17 May 2008; La Nación, ‘Una respuesta a la demanda de alimentos’, Campo section, 31 May 2008; La Nación, ‘El peronismo y el campo’, opinion piece, 2 April 2008.

83 Clarín, ‘Entre los agroquímicos y también la biotecnologia’, Rural section, 31 May 2008; La Nación, ‘La soya no es un yuyo’, main section, 2 April 2008; La Nación, ‘Las nuevas semillas que el mercado espera’, 24 February 2008; La Nación, ‘Se vienen más híbridos de maíz’, Campo section, 21 June 2008; Clarín, ‘Un mundo repleto de innovación’, Rural section, 12 April 2008; La Nación, ‘Importante avance en el cultivo de girasol’, Campo section, 21 June 2008; La Nación, ‘La soya no es un yuyo’, main section, 2 April 2008; La Nación, ‘Respeto por el campo’, opinion piece, 12 March 2008.

84 La Nación, ‘El peronismo y el campo’, opinion piece, 2 April 2008; La Nación, ‘Proyecto agropecuario?’, opinion piece, 16 May 2008; La Nación, ‘Unidos no solo por la soja’, Campo section, 5 April 2008; La Nación, ‘El peronismo y el campo’, opinion piece, 2 April 2008; La Nación, ‘Una respuesta a la demanda de alimentos’, Campo section, 31 May 2008; Clarín, ‘Tecnología para cuidar el clima y ganar energía’, Rural section, 29 March 2008.

85 La Nación, ‘Proyecto agropecuario?’, opinion piece, 16 May 2008; La Nación, ‘Unidos no solo por la soja’, Campo section, 5 April 2008; La Nación, ‘La soya no es un yuyo’, main section, 2 April 2008; ‘Respeto por el campo’, La Nación, opinion piece, 12 March 2008.

86 La Nación, ‘El peronismo y el campo’, opinion piece, 2 April 2008.

87 La Nación, ‘Apertura a los transgénicos’, Campo section, 26 April 2008; La Nación, ‘Respeto por el campo’, opinion piece, 12 March 2008.

88 Vein-ti-tres, ‘El lado criminal del boom sojero’, 23 November 2006.

89 La Nación, ‘Respeto por el campo’, opinion piece, 12 March 2008.

90 La Nación, ‘Unidos no solo por la soja’, Campo section, 5 April 2008; Clarín, ‘Entre realidades y promesas’, Rural section, 17 May 2008; La Nación, ‘Una respuesta a la demanda de alimentos’, Campo section, 31 May 2008; Clarín, ‘Entre los agroquímicos y también la biotecnologia’ Rural section, 31 May 2008. Acsoja is the Asociación de la Cadena de la Soja.

91 Anders Hansen, The Mass Media and Environmental Issues (Leicester, 1993), p. xviii.

92 Gramsci, op.cit. p. 212.

93 Adolfo Boy, Grupo Reflexión Rural, speech at the meeting ‘Enlazando Alternativas’, Vienna May 2006.

* I am grateful to participants at the presentation of this work I gave at the Universidad Nacional de San Martín (Buenos Aires), in November 2007; to Lucila Newell; the editors of the Journal, and to four anonymous referees for useful comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper, and to Aurelio Tomás for his research assistance.

Keywords

Bio-Hegemony: The Political Economy of Agricultural Biotechnology in Argentina*

  • PETER NEWELL (a1)

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