Europe and GM food

The NY Times (free registration required) reports on a rift over biotech foods among EU governments. Some of the EU governments are in favor of genetically modified (G.M.) crops, but they are out of step with their own citizens who express concerns about whether G.M. crops are safe for the consumers or the environment.

“The environment minister who gives in and allows G.M.O.’s into this country will never be minister again,” said Nikos Lappas, head of Greece’s largest farmers’ union. “For farmers, forcing G.M.O.’s would be economic suicide, since our market doesn’t want them.”

What the article does not mention is that the financial interest of G.M. seed companies goes beyond selling seeds. Their interest includes ownership of the means of production. Farmers who use G.M. seeds are legally obligated not to use the G.M. seeds to produce their own seeds for future production. This makes the farmers entirely reliant on the G.M. seed companies to grow their crops. And major seed companies Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and The Monsanto Company are all too happy to fix prices.

Farmers in Europe are aware that G.M. crops are not good for their business, a detail that appears to have been missed by U.S. farmers.

“This is a cutthroat global market, and if all we do is cultivate mass-produced G.M. corn, we’re finished, since other nations will be able to provide that cheaper,” Mr. Lappas said.

The United States–the largest producers of G.M.O.– Canada and Argentina have applied pressure on European governments through a lawsuit in the World Trade Organization and through intensive lobbying efforts.

To the biotech industry and major producers, the issue is simple: genetically modified corn is just corn, genetically modified wheat is just wheat and there is no scientific reason to differentiate.

Industry groups argue that products should not even be labeled modified or free of modification because the labels are unfair trade barriers.

The biotech industry’s argument against labels flies in the face of consumers’ right to know what is in their food.

This is not a new conflict or a new approach for the biotech industry or the U.S. government, as noted three years ago in a commentary by Tom Hayden in The Nation. What is new is the progress that G.M.O. appears to be making progress with the European Union. The European Commission has approved G.M.O. seed for planting. Each approval has been rejected by the Council of Ministers, which represents the member states.

As long as European citizens refuses to relinquish their right to know what is in their food and makes their opinion known to their representatives, G.M.O. will be kept out of Europe. In the U.S., we will have to continue raising our voices to be heard by corporations and our government. We can raise awareness by spreading the word to friends and family, supporting non-G.M.O. foods with our wallets and by writing to our representatives.

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