Book Review: Rape of Canola

The Rape of Canola. By Brewster Kneen. NC Press, Toronto. 1992. 230 pp., paper. $17.95. ISBN 1-55021-066-1.

Rape is a cruciferous plant resembling mustard. The oil obtained from its seeds has been used for a long time in many parts of the world for food and fuel, but is of poor quality according to western standards. Shortly after the Second World War an informal group of Canadian scientists from government laboratories, universities, and industry developed a stain of rape producing oil suitable for food, and economically competitive with other oil seeds. This was named canola, to distinguish it from the original rape. It is now the principal domestic source of edible oil in Canada and it is also an important crop in other counties.

The author describes this impressive achievement of Canadian science, but he is more concerned with subsequent events. Further development of canola strains has been largely controlled by large corporations, with the aim of making profits for their shareholders rather that providing a profitable crop for farmers and a wholesome product for consumers. The author sees this as part of a general trend, which he attributes in part to the government that was in power in Ottawa for most of the last decade, and its ideological counterparts in other counties. It is clear however that he feels that the roots of the problem go much deeper, and involve the very nature of science and the organization of modern society. He sees a need for the creation of means whereby a policy for science and technology and agriculture can be decided at the grass-roots level.

This is an important and disturbing book, which should be read by everyone concerned with the future of the scientific enterprise.