Seeds of wrath – competing narratives on property rights in food governance

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The governance of genetic resources for food and agriculture is an essential part of the wider complex of food governance. Access to genetic material for plant and animal breeders and for farmers is a strategic resource in the global food system. Since the mid 1980s, genetic resources have been increasingly constituted as information and hence as the potential object of intellectual property rights (IPR), in particular patents. Mainly driven by case law, the patent regime has been extended to agricultural plants, animals and breeding technology. This development has been fiercely opposed by food, farm and development groups, but also by many traditional agriculture policy-makers. This paper provides a narrative policy analysis of the biopatents controversy, based on document analysis and interviews with experts and stakeholders in several countries. Three narratives are identified: innovation, community and life. These are linked to competing policy ideas about the appropriate IPR regime which claim that genetic resources should be treated as private, club or global common good. The paper demonstrates how the competing narratives are institutionally entrenched, rendering the biopatents controversy a wicked problem. In this context, the final part of the paper pursues my earlier observation that the competing narratives are entrenched in various single-purpose multi-level governance systems (Hooghe & Marks, 2003), such as the WTO, CBD, FAO or the patent system and advanced through allegedly technical and judicial processes of law harmonisation and creation. The paper discusses how the relative autonomy of technical working groups and jurisdictional boards established by multilateral treaties challenges notions of democratic and deliberative legitimacy. This fragmented, pluri-central expertocracy also reproduces partial narratives at the expense of competing perspectives or the development of overarching meta-narratives, reinforcing conflict between formally independent but overlapping regimes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Event7th ECPR General Conference: Section “Food Governance”, Bordeaux, France -
Duration: 4 Sep 20137 Sep 2013


Conference7th ECPR General Conference: Section “Food Governance”, Bordeaux, France

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    Feindt, P. H. (2013). Seeds of wrath – competing narratives on property rights in food governance. Paper presented at 7th ECPR General Conference: Section “Food Governance”, Bordeaux, France, .