Abstract

This article examines the unexpected outcomes in a puzzling new empirical case—the success of a coalition of small-scale beekeepers, indigenous peasant social movements, and NGOs in thwarting a multinational biotechnology firm’s efforts to commercialize genetically modified (GM) soy in Mexico. Sparked by news of pending EU rules for honey imports “contaminated” with GM pollen grains, beekeepers and their allies leveraged a transnational regulatory focusing event to downscale the forums for contestation of Mexican transgenic policy to subnational levels—where actors vested in regionally valuable honey production became pitted against actors promoting the national commercialization of GM soy across Mexico. The coalition’s success not only depended on an effective political and legal strategy, as might be expected, but hinged crucially on the unique characteristics of the traded commodities themselves—honey and soy. The case reveals the complex socioecological, market, and regulatory dynamics at play in the cultivation of crops and commodities for consumption and sale into local and global markets. Going beyond the actors and interests involved, the case shows how the physical characteristics of commodities act as constraints to the set of possible institutional alternatives to effectively redress policy problems. Regulations contrived with focal commodities in mind, like soy, can have significant spillover effects to more peripheral commodities, like honey, and the interactions and interdependencies shared among commodities in natural and human systems may in fact foster new windows of opportunity for producers to pursue policy change and innovation at multiple levels of governance.

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