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Book ReviewsCompte-rendus

Growing Resistance: Canadian Farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat, Emily Eaton, University of Manitoba Press, 2013, 187 p.

  • Robyn L. Clarke

Corps de l’article

Those familiar with the American agrochemical company Monsanto through documentary films such as Food Inc. (2008) and Michael Pollan’s factory farming exposé The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) will be shocked to find out how much influence the company has with wheat production in Canada. This book covers the politics of the anti-GMO wheat movement through research and interviews with members of Canadian farmer coalitions in 2004.

The author’s introduction poses a research question that animates her book: “Why is there such a discrepancy between the widespread adoption of RR canola...in the mid-1990s and the strong opposition to RR wheat by the same farmers less than a decade later? (4). Five chapters follow the introduction, each with the goal of answering different dimensions of her question.

Chapter one explains the key players in the GMO debate. Eaton introduces Monsanto, and their GMO wheat seed called Roundup-Ready (RR), as well as the central government groups and farmers’ coalitions concerned with its implementation. Roundup-Ready is a patented GMO seed that resists weeds, but requires the application of Roundup herbicide to work effectively (46). Furthermore, farmers cannot save Monsanto’s seed or reproduce it the following year because of Monsanto’s powerful history of suing farmers for intellectual property infringement. Instead, the farmers must purchase seeds yearly adding to increased production costs.

Chapter two is an overview of the ways in which the Canadian government has supported biotechnology. Eaton’s research indicates that at times the government has been overly involved by allowing companies to exploit the lack of regulatory bodies. Canada’s government assesses risk through the “sound science” paradigm, which only uses “objective” scientific evidence allowing “no room for an examination of the potential socio-economic implications of GMOs (39). Furthermore, Eaton argues there is “no meaningful government action taken to incorporate independent arms-length peer review into regulatory decisions” (40).

Chapter three investigates the historical politics of wheat and canola oil to examine the divergent politics that surround their genetic modification (52). Using a thorough analysis of the national and cultural discourses surrounding the wheat and canola industry, Eaton argues that wheat imbues prairie farmers with a sense of Canadian identity. She argues that although canola, (an oil produced from the rapeseed plant and shortened to canola “derived from Canadian oil, low acid”) (76), is a Canadian product it does not have enough influence in the mind of the consumer to instigate activism against its genetic modification. From the beginning, Canada marketed canola oil as grease for car engines, and it was only after the Second World War that was canola modified for human consumption. Given canola’s history, and the large amount of modifications that went into it, it has never held the same weight as wheat in the Canadian culinary imagination. Interestingly Eaton also draws upon Donna Haraway’s theory of companion species to consider wheat and canola as co-constituted products with the people growing them (52-53, 88). Eaton emphasizes the importance of canola as a Canadian innovation mainly supported by private industry as opposed to wheat, which has been a religious and national symbol for Canadian eaters, and profoundly tied to a history of farming and settlement.

Chapter four looks at how farmers make their case against genetically modified wheat. In July 2001, farm groups worked with Greenpeace activists, and other urban and consumer NGOs to oppose Monsanto’s application of RR wheat in Canada. Bringing together a diverse group of people, this coalition met in Winnipeg for a conference that dealt with issues of environment and health risks, transparency, and democracy in opposition to GMOs.

Finally, in chapter five Eaton considers the view that RR wheat production should be decided in the marketplace through consumer demand, and juxtaposes it with the collective action of the anti-GM activists (118).

Eaton does a fine job of discussing the ethical and practical implications of integrating GMOs into Canadian farm practices. The thought that companies in both the United States and Canada do not have to label their products that contain GMOs horrifies me as a conscientious eater. Eaton suggests that eaters should have more knowledge about what they are consuming, and I am inclined to agree with her. Growing Resistance is very abbreviation heavy (note the two pages at the front of the text), and contains dense historical and statistical research about farming in Canada, and the government’s involvement. While Growing Resistance is not a quick read, it is definitely a rewarding one for those who want to learn more about farming practices and GMO resistance in Canada.

Emily Eaton, now an assistant professor of Geography at the University of Regina, wrote this book drawing heavily on her doctoral dissertation for University of Toronto. Eaton conducted fieldwork through a variety of interviews with farmer coalitions and anti-Roundup-Ready activists.