Bees, beekeepers, and bureaucrats: parasitism and the politics of transgenic life

by Javier Lezaun

Over the last few years I have been following the attempt of the European Union to domesticate genetically modified organisms. In the future imagined by the EU, genetically modified must ‘coexist’ with conventional and organic agriculture. This means that fields under transgenic cultivation have to be separated and isolated, in order to minimize the extent of genetic exchange between plant varieties.

This paper follows the fate of bees and beekeepers in this scenario. The former have become a vector of ‘genetic pollution’, since they can carry pollen from transgenic plants far enough to render moot the isolation distances and buffer zones established around GM field. As a result, beekeepers have become an active political actor in the debate over ‘coexistence’.

Abstract. Over the last decade the flying patterns and foraging behavior of bees have become a matter of public policy in the European Union. Determined to establish a system where transgenic crops can ‘coexist’ with conventional and organic farming, the EU has begun to erect a system of demarcations and separations designed to minimize the extent of ‘gene flow’ from genetically modified plants. As the European landscape is regimented through the introduction of isolation distances and buffer zones, bees and other pollinating insects have become vectors of ‘genetic pollution’, disrupting the project of cohabitation and purification devised by European authorities. Drawing on the work of Michel Serres on parasitism, this paper traces the emergence of bees as an object of regulatory scrutiny and as an interruptor of the ‘coexistence’ project. Along with bees, however, another uninvited guest arrived unexpectedly on the scene: the beekeeper, who came to see his traditional relationship to bees, crops, and consumers at risk. The figure of the parasite connects the two essential dynamics described in this paper: an escalation of research and the intensification of political attributes.

You can download the full paper here.

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