Emily Eaton and Growing Resistance

I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. And despite what you might have been lead to believe based on my upcoming book, Growing Resistance: Canadian Farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat, I have no personal or familial ties to agriculture.

I first became interested in agriculture while studying the sociology of agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan as part of my undergraduate degree in international studies. It seemed the perfect topic through which to study human-environment relationships, ‘non-rational’ economic actors (farmers), and questions of social justice.

While conducting the research for this book I spent a lot of time with farmers. Having grown up in Saskatchewan gave me little credibility with the farmers that I interviewed. Instead, they perceived me as a naïve outsider, a ‘city girl’ that knew nothing about farming. Back home in Toronto where I was writing my PhD I was also an outsider in the large urban-focused geography department in downtown Toronto, Canada’s largest city. To my colleagues in Toronto, having grown up in Saskatchewan already meant I was an expert on all things agricultural.

This summer I started a new research project on Saskatchewan’s oil economy. I’m feeling once again like a big outsider. The oil industry is overwhelmingly male and masculinist and not very amenable to this vegetarian academic on the left.

Some colleagues say you should study what you know best; somehow I feel most comfortable studying what I know least. I find it a distinct advantage in the field. Interviewees seem to find outsiders less threatening, they are more willing to offer explanations, and they take time to substantiate their positions. The learning curve is steep, but it’s also very rewarding to be learning so many new things.

About Growing Resistance
In 2004 Canadian farmers led an international coalition to a major victory for the anti-GM movement by defeating the introduction of Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat. Canadian farmers’ strong opposition to GM wheat marked a stark contrast to previous producer acceptance of other genetically modified crops. By 2005, for example, GM canola accounted for 78% of all canola grown nationally. So why did farmers stand up for wheat?

In Growing Resistance, Emily Eaton reveals the motivating factors behind farmer opposition to GM wheat. She illustrates wheat’s cultural, historical, and political significance on the Canadian prairies as well as its role in crop rotation, seed saving practices, and the economic livelihoods of prairie farmers.

Through interviews with producers, industry organizations, and biochemical companies, Eaton demonstrates how the inclusion of producer interests was integral to the coalition’s success in voicing concerns about environmental implications, international market opposition to GMOs, and the lack of transparency and democracy in Canadian biotech policy and regulation.

Growing Resistance is a fascinating study of successful coalition building, of the need to balance local and global concerns in activist movements, and of the powerful forces vying for control of food production.