The conventional view that agriculture was displaced by industry in two stages—by the industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century, and as a result of the rise of the agribusiness system in the mid-twentieth century—has left many observers of the contemporary political economy with the impression that to deal with agriculture is essentially to focus on political-economic history rather than contemporary political economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of this special issue of MR is to help compensate for the neglect that agriculture has often suffered in political-economic literature of the late twentieth century. In so doing we will continue with a line of argument that was introduced in MR more than a decade ago in the July-August 1986 special issue Science, Technology, and Capitalism, edited by Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, which included landmark essays on U.S. agriculture and agricultural research by Richard Lewontin and Jean-Pierre Berlan
The agribusiness/food sector is the second most profitable industry in the United States — following pharmaceuticals — with annual sales over $400 billion. Contributing to its profitability are the breathtaking strides in biotechnology coupled with the growing concentration of ownership and control by food’s largest corporations. Everything, from decisions on which foods are produced, to how they are processed, distributed, and marketed is, remarkably, dictated by a select few giants wielding enormous power. More and more farmers are forced to adopt new technologies and strategies with consequences potentially harmful to the environment, our health, and the quality of our lives. The role played by trade institutions like the World Trade Organization, serves only to make matters worse.