The acknowledgment that non-state actors, including those at the local and national levels, contribute to the construction and growth of the global political economy has resulted in the emergence of the international political economy in everyday life (I-PEEL) discourses (Davies, 2006). This can be commented on from two viewpoints: the “top-down” and “bottom-up” perspectives. In comparison, “bottom-up” emphasizes the idea that everyday life is the ground upon which global forces play, while “top-down” emphasizes global commodification resulting in the larger and deeper expressions of capitalism in everyday life (Elias, 2010). In discussing I-PEEL, the writer is primarily interested in the food security topic. It refers to the certainty that adequate food supplies will always be available to suit an individual’s dietary requirements. The discussion focuses on agricultural biotechnology, specifically genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have been proposed as a strategy for addressing threats to global food security. However, capitalist opportunists viewed this enormous demand as an opportunity to profit from agricultural technology. This article will discuss the application of agricultural biotechnology and analyze the ensuing capitalism through both the “bottom-up” and “top-down” I-PEEL perspectives.
Capitalism is defined as an economic system in which commodities are produced predominantly for their owners to sell for a profit on the market. In this context, the owner places secondary significance on the function of the goods (Friedman, 2015). In today’s economy, capitalism has expanded into the agricultural sector. When viewed from the “bottom-up” perspective of I-PEEL, this phenomenon can be traced back to people’s desire to address the pervasive problem of food insecurity in many unstable regions of the world, most notably Africa. According to research by Delgado et al. (2023), 20% of the population in Africa has experienced food insecurity. The food insecurity problem in Africa is regarded as a significant concern given that it can contribute to other problems, such as malnutrition, which increases infant mortality and slows or impedes both physical and mental growth and development in the region (Beyene, 2023). Given the gravity of the problem and the potential for negative consequences, biotechnology’s implementation in agriculture is being considered as a potential expedient solution.
The term “agricultural biotechnology” refers to the use of living plant organisms or their components in the development, production, and distribution of food and feed products. Biotechnology has been used by farmers to increase crop yields for thousands of years, contrary to the common misconception that it is a recent innovation (Falk et al., 2002). This crop increasement entails not only a rise in quantity, but also an improvement in quality, which contributes to the sustainability of the food supply, thus being essential to meeting food demand. As a result of these remarkable advantages, it is utilized as the primary method for treating food insecurity. This assertion is supported by the prevalence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are organisms whose DNA has been altered in a laboratory to increase the expression of desirable traits, one of which is food production (Diaz & Fridovich-Keil, 2018). Given that the gene selected for modification can increase or decrease the vitamin, mineral, or fatty acid content of the modified food (Discovery Eye Foundation, 2015), it is believed that GMOs can aid in enhancing the nutritional value of the product in the context of addressing food insecurity. GMOs also reduce input costs for producers because it requires less land, water, and pesticides to produce the same yield (Chicago Sun Times, 2016). For instance, the price of staples such as corn, beets, and soybeans may fall by as much as 30 percent (Cassetty, 2022). Therefore, it makes sense for GMO foods to be less expensive, allowing the aim of food security through providing affordable and accessible food for all to be achieved.
With the rise of opportunistic capitalism, however, the veracity of GMO use has begun to recede into the background. The triumph of GMOs’ generalized commodity production and market has resulted in its aim to shift from producing sustainable production and food security to producing goods for profit (Friedman, 2015). The global commodification of GMOs offers a natural explanation for this capitalism phenomenon when viewed from a “top-down” I-PEEL perspective. Capitalists view the growing demand for genetically modified organisms as a lucrative opportunity to create a market and capitalize it. In this regard, biotechnology can be perceived as an integral component of the agricultural foundation of the global economy (Kloppenburg, 2004, as cited in Motta, 2016). Specifically, GMOs have contributed to the continued dominance of transnational corporations and the maintenance of economic dependence and power disparities between nations. A select group of corporations own patents on the vast majority of commercially available GMOs, whereas developing nations in the global South export their genetic resources to the industrialized North (Fuglie et al., 2012, as cited in Motta, 2016). For instance, soybean genomes have been patented and privatized by agricultural corporation Monsanto. Since only corporations with patents are legally permitted to use particular agricultural GMOs, their utilization has become constrained.
The contradiction between capitalist production and ecological power is at the center of the ongoing debate over the capitalization of GMOs. This discussion illuminates ecological moral compass assertions that natural inputs in commodity production must be severed from their ecological link and rearticulated in a production process governed by intertwined marketability and profitability criteria (Friedman, 2015). In addition, the capitalization of GMOs raises additional “top-down” I-PEEL concerns regarding the protection of consumer products and natural resource stocks. Under capitalism, both production and the market have been standardized and are perpetually expanding, hence producers are compelled to increase their market share and the scope of their operations to remain competitive. As such, many businesses in this industry reduce their operating expenses by selling mass-produced, low-quality products to consumers. Regional and international markets were inundated with identical products, stifling diversity and ushering in a new era of uniformity. Thus, large-scale monoculture industrial agriculture, which uses economies of scale to reduce production costs, has spread across the globe. Moreover, because the majority of capitalists in today’s globally competitive market want to make a profit, manufacturing is sometimes rushed at the expense of appropriate research and development, especially in terms of post-production management. Increasing waste and mismanagement of natural resources are the cause of this issue. In reality, unless public outrage and social movements compel them to do so, their financial statements do not include wastes generated during the production process or natural resources unrelated to production. This is because environmental concerns are frequently ignored in capitalist economies, indicating that the planet is still largely a “free gift to capital.” Even more unfortunate is that there is little prospect that this will fundamentally change, as capitalism is inherently a system of unpaid costs (Foster, 2002, cited in Friedman, 2015).
To conclude, the I-PEEL characteristic of agricultural biotechnologies lies in the role of non-state actors, such as corporations and societies, in constructing the expansion of capitalism in the global political economy. It is apparent that opportunist capitalists pursue profit in everything, including in genuine altruism-driven discoveries for addressing humanitarian challenges. Examined through the “bottom-up” lens of I-PEEL, the production motivations behind agricultural biotechnologies, specifically GMOs, have shifted by the capitalist from providing food to alleviate food insecurity to profiting from its high demand. Moreover, this has paved the way for them to further expand capitalism in everyday life through “top-down” procedures, such as the patenting of GMOs products. Worse even, the capitalization of GMOs has also provoked further concerns, such as the degradation of consumer goods and environmental issues.