Ron Herring
Cornell University

Science can say nothing conclusive about many important dimensions of the global cognitive and political rift on transgenic agricultural crops. Empirical studies will not answer questions in the realms of food preference, risk aversion, cultural constructions of rural society, or theology. But there are critical empirical questions and much empirical work on transgenic crops. This essay analyzes a puzzle: reports of “the failure of Bt cotton in India”—on agronomic, economic, and environmental grounds—continue to spread globally but are inconsistent with both farmer behavior and scientific studies. This narrative of agro-economic failure has arguably crowded out the more empirically robust story of farm-level success of one trait (insect resistance) in one crop. Why? Understanding this outcome requires conceptualizing the social conditions—interests, relations, cognitive frames—in which production of knowledge claims is embedded. This article argues that there is a critical role for “epistemic brokers,” or hinges, between local, national, and international advocacy groups within larger transnational advocacy networks. Reports of failure of the Bt technology in India are not sustainable scientifically but do serve interests in the contentious politics around GMOs globally.

Key words: Pakistan, Bt cotton, India, farmer suicides, agricultural biotechnology, GMOs, NGOs.