Dr. Shuji Hisano, Professor of International Political Economy of Agriculture from the Graduate School of Economics, Kyoto University, Japan, visited the AUR Graduate School on September 17, 2017 to talk about the politics of biotechnology. He discussed how to understand and critically analyze agricultural biotechnologies from a political economy perspective.

So, what exactly is biotechnology? The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biotechnology as "Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use". Dr. Hisano showed that we have been using bio technology for years in the fermentation of cheese and beer, or the breeding of select plants and animals for agriculture. However, in recent decades, there have been many advances in biotechnology and the emergence of genetically engineered and modified organisms. This has sparked a lively debate as to what the future of the food system can and should be.

With that question, Dr. Hisano demonstrated the role of big business as a political actor in the era of globalization, and the impact that has on the global food system. As biotechnology increases in global use, the power structure shifts to a system where the control of agriculture shifts away from the state and the producers, to those who control the technology.

He sees the implementation of technology in food and agricultural as not only a scientific question, but one that should involve social factors. As biotechnology increases in scale, how will this impact local producers and suppliers, as well as the global consumer? Dr. Hisano stressed the importance of a multidisciplinary approach, which involves social scientists working with farmers, policy makers, and business to analyze bio-tech and its relationship to not only the global food system, but, local agriculture and food systems.

For the AUR Graduate Students this offered a unique chance to discuss the current biotechnological landscape in the food system, to better understand it, and also to think about what future they want to help shape.

Author: Rick Randel, M.A. Food Studies.