Abstract This study challenges the assumption that abstract “globalization” forces are driving transformations in the relationships between states and markets. Employing three cases of policy debate regarding the regulation of agricultural biotechnology (ag-biotech), we examine the role of discourse in the formation of neoliberal regulatory schemes. We show that one important mechanism for the successful institutionalization of neoliberalism in the area of ag-biotech has been the linking of neoliberal discourse with a discourse of scientism. This strategic combination of discourses has been used by advocates of biotechnology to depoliticize ag-biotech—that is, to remove it further from political debate and state intervention. However, in each case examined here, certain state actors resisted industry demands for minimal regulation, and in each context this resistance produced markedly different outcomes.