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First the Seed

The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology

Jack Ralph Kloppenburg, Jr.

Publication Year: 2004

First the Seed spotlights the history of plant breeding and shows how efforts to control the seed have shaped the emergence of the agricultural biotechnology industry. This second edition of a classic work in the political economy of science includes an extensive, new chapter updating the analysis to include the most recent developments in the struggle over the direction of crop genetic engineering.

1988 Cloth, 1990 Paperback, Cambridge University Press
Winner of the Theodore Saloutos Award of the Agricultural History Society
Winner of the Robert K. Merton Award of the American Sociological Association

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright

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List of tables

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pp. x-xi

List of figures

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p. xii-xii

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Preface to the second edition

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pp. xiii-xiv

Sixteen years after the initial publication of First the Seed, I am presented with the opportunity to revisit my work and evaluate it against the backdrop of subsequent events. I find I am both pleased and disappointed. I am pleased by the accuracy with which I limned the historical trajectories that were shaping the development and the deployment...

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Preface to the first edition

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pp. xv-xviii

It is only March 8, but I planted today. It has been one of the mildest winters on record here in Wisconsin. Warmed by the heat reflecting off the stone facade of my house, the soil in my south-facing front garden has already thawed...

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pp. xix-xx

It is with mingled senses of relief and pleasure that I complete tis book. It is the fruit of a project begun some four years ago as a graduate student at Cornell University. In my work at Cornell I was fortunate to have had the advice...

Lists of abbreviations

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pp. xxi-xxii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-18

This book is a political and economic history of what has been one of the most fundamental of humanity's "productive organs": plant biotechnology. Whatever the historical period, whatever the mode ofproduction, plants and their products have been necessary components...

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2. Science, agriculture, and social change

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pp. 19-49

Before moving on to the historical matter that constitutes the greater part of First the Seed, it is useful to treat a number of thematic elements more completely than was possible in Chapter I. This chapter provides an elaboration of the theoretical framework that informs my interpretation of the historical and contemporary records...

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3. The genetic foundation of American agriculture

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pp. 50-65

It is said that an army travels on its stomach. Ultimately we all travel - and live or die - on our stomachs, and this is, of course, no less true of the first European settlers in what was to become the United States than it is of us today. An adequate food supply was the material prerequisite for the establishment of a permanent...

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4. Public science ascendant: plant breeding comes of age

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pp. 66-90

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the development of a plant genetic foundation on which American agriculture could successfully expand. This was accomplished principally through the appropriation of plant germplasm from other parts of the globe...

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5. Heterosis and the social division of labor

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pp. 91-129

The development of hybrid corn has long been regarded as the supreme achievement of public agricultural science. Given Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1958 visit to hybrid seed-corn producer Roswell Garst's Iowa farm, and his plans for a Soviet Corn Belt...

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6. Plant breeders' rights and the social division of labor: historical perspective

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pp. 130-151

Hybridization furnished capital with an eminently effective technical means ofcircumventing the natural constraints on the commodification of the seed. But not all crops submitted to hybridization. There is, however, a second route to the commodification of the seed: the extension of property rights to plant germplasm. Plant breeders' rights (PBR) have now been an issue in the plant science community for over a century...

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7. Seeds of strugle; plant genetic resources in teh world system

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pp. 152-190

Plant genetic resources enjoy a unique distinction: They are considered the "common heritage of mankind" (FAO 1983a:6; Myers 1983:24; Wilkes 1983:156), humanity's collective "genetic estate" (Frankel 1974). As such, PGRs have been available as a free good...

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8. Outdoing evolution: biotechnology, botany, and business

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pp. 191-241

It would be interesting to know the source of the Wellsian prescience apparent in the quotation from Hyland C. Kirk. Kirk's comments came in the course of congressional testimony during a hearing on proposed legislation that would eventually become the Plant Patent Act of 1930. Kirk doubtless wanted to emphasize the extent to which new plant...

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9. Directions for deployment

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pp. 242-277

What forms will the products of the new plant biotechnologies take? CibaGeigy's Mary-Dell Chilton has written that "Biotechnology is a completely new approach to solving old problems" (quoted in Rossman 1984). But qualitatively different tools do not necessarily imply qualitatively different sorts of solutions to those problems...

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10. Conclusion

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pp. 278-290

Let me give my "take-home" message straight away as well. Atlantic Richfield's J. Eugene Fox has paraphrased Clausewitz by saying that "Research priorities are too important to be left in the hands of research directors and other kinds of management types...

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11. Still the seed: plant biotechnology in the twenty-first century

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pp. 291-354

The reissue of First the Seed has given me the opportunity to add a chapter to the book. My history of plant breeding has, so far, taken its narrative and analytical structure from the interaction of scientific development with three themes of political economy: progressive commodification, the changing division of labor between public...


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pp. 355-378


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pp. 379-420


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pp. 421-426

E-ISBN-13: 9780299192433
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299192440

Publication Year: 2004