Conflicts over GMOs and their Contribution to Food Democracy

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The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) embodies a specific vision of agricultural systems that is highly controversial. The article focuses on how conflicts over GMOs contribute towards food democracy. Food democracy is defined as the possibility for all social groups to participate in, negotiate and struggle over how societies organize agricultural production, thereby ensuring that food systems fulfil the needs of people and sustain (re)productive nature into the future. EU agricultural policy envisages the coexistence of agricultural and food systems with and without GMOs. This policy, which on the surface appears to be a means of avoiding conflict, has in fact exacerbated conflict, while creating obstacles to the development of food democracy. By contrast, empirical analysis of movements against GMOs in Germany and Poland shows how they create pathways towards participation in the food system and the creation of alternative agricultural futures, thereby contributing to a democratization of food systems and thus of society-nature relations. Today, as products of new breeding techniques such as genome editing are being released, these movements are gaining new relevance.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitics and Governance
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)165-177
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 28.10.2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research was (partly) conducted by the research group “PoNa—Shaping Nature: Policy, Politics and Polity” at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany, and supported by the German BMBF (PoNa 01UU0903). We thank the BMBF for its generous funding. We also thank the editors and three reviewers for their specific and careful comments to improve the text and Gudrun Harms for her support in the preparation of the references. Last but not least, we are very grateful to Andrew Halliday for his language editing support.

Funding Information:
We chose to study movements against GMOs in Germany and Poland as exemplars of West and East European countries. In this article, we discuss the extent to which the movements in the two countries have been successful in creating pathways for participation in the food system and towards the creation of alternatives. When we refer to conflicts surrounding GMOs, the different circumstances in the two countries should be kept in mind. However, our intention is not to draw comparisons between Germany and Poland, but rather to use data and results from these two different countries to develop a more comprehensive notion of food democracy. Our analysis draws on the work of the social-ecological research group “PoNa” (‘Shaping Nature,’ funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in the funding priority social-ecological research), which studied the relationship between nature and politics and how understandings of nature and politics are manifested in conflicts, including those over GMOs (Gottschlich & Mölders, 2017). The empirical data consists of: (1) 14 qualitative interviews (Interviews 1–14) with opponents of GMOs (ten from Germany and four from Poland) involved in local, national or transnational conflicts; (2) transcripts of discussions in two focus groups with anti-GMO activists, including scientists and members of environmental non-governmental organisations and agricultural associations from Germany and Poland; (3) documents from both countries, such as transcripts of parliamentary debates and government regulations (laws, directives, etc.) published in the period 2004–2012; and (4) results of our iconographic analysis of flyers, posters and book covers shown in 2012 on the websites of the parties involved in the GMO debate (Gottschlich & Sulmowski, 2017). This empirical data is supplemented by a review of relevant literature.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors; licensee Cogitatio (Lisbon, Portugal).

    Research areas

  • Environmental planning - agriculture, conflict, food democracy, genetically modified organisms, new breeding techniques, social ecology, social movements, society-nature relations