Book cover 'Growing Resistance' Climate change, air pollution, biodiversity decline, deforestation, pesticides, genetically modified food, overfishing, etc… There are no shortage of environmental problems indeed! That is why it is sometimes difficult to maintain a positive spirit of activism towards trying to preserve our Planet in a state that future generations can enjoy.

One way to avoid falling into defeatism and passivity, is to remember the victories which we tend to forget far too quickly. Emily Eaton helps us remember.Emily Eaton, an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Regina has written a book on how Canadian farmers defeated Monsanto’s attempt to introduce genetically modified (GE) wheat. Her book, Growing Resistance – Canadian Farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat is an account of the history of the battle not only against GE wheat, but also against Monsanto, a giant and very politically powerful agrichemical US company. As an illustration of that power, let us remember the recent adoption in the US of the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’.  In this context, the 2004 victory against Monsanto Roundup Ready tolerant GE wheat is even more striking, and should be a source of inspiration for future battles. It also should spur on  the urgency to shift to ecological farming.

In 2001, a broad coalition of farmers, environmentalists and civil society groups came together to oppose GE wheat. Eaton reminds us that farmers formed the majority in this broad coalition and her book is about how and why Canadian farmers made the difference in this battle. To better grasp the key role of farmers, the author conducted 43 indepth interviews. Most are with Canadian farmers and key actors in this battle. Too often, ordinary farmers’ voices are ignored and drummed over by the relentless corporate agribusiness PR machine. Also, there are attacks against any kind of independent organised farming organisations that defend farmers’ interest rather than promote agribusiness. For example, the dismantling of the farmer controlled Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) by the Conservative Harper government in 2012. This was part of an obvious strategy to further increase corporate control over farming and farmers. It is worth remembering that the CWB was also one of the powerful actors in the coalition against the introduction of GE wheat in 2001-2004.

The author places the battle against GE wheat in a broad and rich agrarian history and against the reality of industrial farming today. Increasingly, family farms are squashed between corporate giants that provide them with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, seeds, etc and the multinationals that buy and trade what farmers produce.

Crops like wheat are not reducible to commodities, Emily Eaton reminds us, but are also sometimes cultural icons. On the contrary, other crops like canola don’t have that kind of cultural significance. This explains, in part, why Monsanto Roundup Ready tolerant GE canola didn’t get as much as opposition as did GE wheat. Perhaps more surprising is that it was sometimes the same farmers who used GE canola who were also opposed the introduction of GE wheat.

She warns – and I agree - the “strategies and tactics that successfully warded off GE wheat in the early 2000 will not work again” (p.147) because the context has changed (e.g. .the abolition of the wheat marketing monopoly of the CWB). The GE wheat lobby has also learned its lesson and is now trying to introduce GE wheat where there seems to be less resistance to it, Australia. However, the introduction of GE wheat in Australia is far from won. The overseas clients for Australian wheat have for little appetite for GE wheat.

Emily Eaton’s book is must read for those interested in both farming and wheat. It is also a lesson and a reminder for environmentalists and farmers, that working together can be lead to powerful victories.