Project Bridging TIME Theory & Practice ESRC (R000222946):
A pilot to a large Europe-wide project that explores processes and barriers involved in translating into practice academic knowledge about pertinent TIME issues in the food system. The aim is to enlist the help of key players in the food system in order to make transparent what at present is an implicit and taken-for-granted dimension of the food system, that is, TIME in its multiple functions, dimensions and uses. Project Leader: Barbara Adam
School of Social Science, Cardiff University,
50 Park Place, Cardiff CF1 3AT
Tel: 01222-875565 FAX 01222-874436
E-mail: Adamtime@Cardiff.AC.UK

GM & the Economy of TIME

Background:Industrial Time
The industrial way of life is tied to a particular approach to TIME. In industrial societies the TIME of the public sphere is tied to economic exchange: TIME is money.

In nature everything has its TIME and season. From an economic perspective, however, this natural TIME is a barrier to efficiency and improvements in productivity. Efficiency is thus defined with reference to TIME: to be efficient is to a) overcome natural TIME and b) control TIME to suit the processes of production.

This economic TIME is rooted in the machine TIME of clocks. As such it is invariable and precise. It knows no seasons, no context, no periods of peaks and troughs. It is part of the non-stop world of 24-hour, all-year-round trading and finance.

TIME as economic value and resource tends to be promoted, allocated, structured and compressed without much debate on the matter. Economic TIME is imposed globally as an unquestioned norm. This in turn affects the production, trade, retailing, preparation and consumption of food. The control and compression of TIME is inseparably tied to the creation of profits.

Genetic modification in the production of food needs to be understood in this context of industrial societies' politics and economics of TIME.

When TIME is Money
In a world where TIME is money

  • Speed is tied to efficiency because of competition and the need to have a quick return on investment.
  • It is economically prudent to borrow from the future and to get as much TIME as possible for nothing since both strategies enhance profit and global competition.
  • Any un-used TIME is money wasted, and any unproductive TIME is money lost.
  • Control of TIME improves transportability, storage, shelf life and export capacity, all of which enhances the creation of profit. TIME control covers the manipulation of seasonality, reproduction cycles, length of ripening and maturation, periods of growth and decay. GM offers the ultimate TIME control.
The TIME Economy of GM
From an economic TIME perspective GM is the holy grail. It is the ultimate in TIME control and TIME compressions. It promises
  • INSTANTANEOUS reproductive change where before changes had to be achieved from one generation to the next
  • SPEEDING UP of ripening and maturing processes
  • CONTROL of growth and decay for JUST-IN-TIME production, harvesting, storing, retailing and consumption
This massive leap in TIME compression and control has a price tag attached and it is important not to lose sight of this over the excitement of the economic potential. The nature and extent of the costs is tied to the history of TIME control in science and politics.

GM & Scientific TIME Control

Background: Scientific TIME
TIME in science is first and foremost a measure, an abstract quantity that is unaffected by the subject it measures. Like economic time it is rooted in the TIME of the clock. Scientific TIME thus bears little resemblance to the complex TIMES of nature and social organisation. It recognises no context, no seasonal variation, no qualitative difference, no good or bad TIMES. One hour is the same irrespective of where and when we are.

TIME as scientific measure has to be distinguished from the goal of TIME control that underpins the scientific enterprise. Conventionally we think of science as a means to control nature. However, scientific control is effected not over nature per se but more specifically over nature's TIMES.

Laboratory TIME
TIME enters the scientific enterprise as tool, subject matter and goal. When it is used in laboratory science to study nature a number of implications arise from the interaction.

Nature as object of laboratory research is severed from its time-space relationships and interdependencies. It is studied in bounded time frames as fixed objects rather than interacting parts of wider wholes.

Such abstraction from living processes allows for:

  • the control and re-design of natural processes and species-specific TIMES
  • this TIME can be reprogrammed, that is, speeded up, compressed, slowed down, or re-arranged.
With genetic engineering the scientific control of TIME has been taken into new dimensions. From a TIME perspective GE is not a mere continuity and extension of breeding methods. Rather, it is quantum leap in TIME control since it operates at the level not just of production but reproduction.

The Science of GM TIME
For Science GM is the holy grail. It reaches the frontiers of TIME. It promises

  • extension of scientific reach to the beginning and end of TIME: to the beginning of shared genetic origins and open-ended future effects
  • the temporal equivalent to spatial globalisation
  • control not just of nature's products but its processes, that is, TEMPORALITY
  • control of TIME at the level of reproduction and SPEEDING UP of reproductive change to achieve instantaneous results
This extension in TEMPORAL reach and the massive leap in TIME compression and control in the laboratory, however is not matched by control of GMO's once they are released into the environment. Instead
  • Unprecedented increase in control in the laboratory over SHORT-TERM processes is matched by an equally unprecedented loss of control over LONG-TERM effects in humans and on the environment.
  • Once released into the environment, GMOs know no boundaries. Their effects are unbounded in TIME & space.
  • GM and gene pollution are FOR EVER without possibility of recall or undoing mistakes.
  • Where science used to operate on the basis of trial and error, GE conducts trials where errors may not show themselves for a long TIME and where errors may materialise in different bodies (successor generations) and in different species (dispersed across nature in TIME and space).
TIME Politics of GM

Background: TIME Politics of the FUTURE
Politics tends to be understood with reference to space and matter, that is, the defence of the realm and territory as well as the distribution of a country's resources and wealth. TIME, in contrast, is an implicit aspect of the political process.

TIME as economic value and resource is adopted as the status quo. It is imposed globally as an unquestioned norm and without public debate.

The mandate for political action is bounded not only by the territory of nations but also by election cycles. Regulations, policies and their effects, however, invariably exceed these temporal boundaries.

Politicians are continuously responding to policies and regulations of previous governments whilst themselves operating in successors' PRESENTS and FUTURES.

For some 200 years governments have relied on science to predict the FUTURE and provide them with proof of causal connections. With respect to the regulation of GM crops, these TIME-based expectations are no longer appropriate.

Innovation, Risk, Contested Futures
It is in the nature of INNOVATION that the PAST can act neither as guide for action in the PRESENT nor as predictor of the FUTURE. Innovation is the context of inescapable UNCERTAINTY of outcomes and contested FUTURES. This has discomfiting political consequences.

  • There can be no risk assessment since FUTURE risk can be calculated only on the basis of a known PAST.
  • Science cannot give the customary answers that guide political action: no prediction of the FUTURE, no truth, no certainty, no proof of causal connections.
  • With truly INNOVATIVE science, therefore, politics and policy operate in the realm not of science but contested values & morals.
The conflict between economic and natural TIME belongs to this world of values.

So What?

  • To focus on the TIME politics of GM is to foreground a democratic deficit that has thus far escaped public debate.
  • It shows the need for political institutions that have a mandate for the construction of the LONG-TERM FUTURE.
Cardiff School of Social Sciences