Genetically Modified Food and Trade Wars between the United States and France Essay

Genetically Modified Food and Trade Wars between the United States and France

Introduction

In the recent years, there has been a lot of debate over genetically modified organisms. In the WTO regime, emphasis is being given on the production of food materials using scientific methods. Genetically modified food is a result of the existing policies that believe that crops prepared using scientific methods, will resolve the food scarcity problems in several parts of the world.

In Europe, there are a lot of apprehensions in people’s mind about safety of food materials. Activists and Demonstrators vociferously protested against the use of genetically modified food almost in every part of the world. Some countries have adopted different postures on this issue. It has become a bone of contention between them as they present their own arguments and views on the use of genetically modified food. A trade war has begun between the United States and European Union over the issue of genetically modified food.

Genetically Modified Food

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A genetically modified food is a food product that is derived from a genetically modified organism (GMO). The GMO could be a plant, animal or microbe. “Genetically modified foods were first developed in the 1990s. The main ingredients of GM foods are derived from genetically modified soybean or maize. Genetic modification allows single genes to be altered in living organisms. Genetic modification is a part of biotechnology in which living organisms such as enzymes are used to make food products, which include wine, cheese and beer. GM products include medicines, vaccines, foods and food ingredients” (Levidow and Marris, 356).

Genetically Modified Foods in the United States

“Between 1997 and 1999, genetic modified (GM) ingredients began appearing in most of the processed foods in the United States. The United States is the world leader in the development of GM foods. Development of GM foods were influenced by a Supreme Court ruling that allowed the patenting of living organisms for commercial purpose. Then after, there has been a huge competition among the firms to seek patents and develop GM foods. Currently almost two-third of food products in the United States has been genetically modified” (Guarino, 118).

Most of the American agricultural lands were converted to raise GM crops. While expansion of GM food products grew in the United States at a faster pace, protests and regulations halted its march in other parts of the world. “Laws in European countries partially banned or restricted the use of GM food products. France, Germany and the Netherlands were among the major EU countries that spearheaded the anti-GM food campaign” (MacKenzie and Silvia, 534).

Major companies in the US tried to consolidate their stand on the use of GM foods through public campaigns. They kept saying that this unique technology will enable the environment to reduce toxic chemical use and increase food production. According to them, development of genetically modified food will lead to a new agricultural boom. The US government and policymakers in the country always supported the development of genetically modified foods bowing to the pressure of the big companies.

France’s Stand on Genetically Modified Food

Like other European countries, France has maintained a strong posture on GM foods. Although the use of genetically modified food is not completely banned in France and other European countries, several restrictions are placed on the development of GM crops.

“The European Commission had previously placed a moratorium on GM foods. However, in 2004, it lifted the moratorium and permitted companies to sell maize, which is known as Bt-11” (BBC News).

“Activists in France have been protesting against GM foods for the past seven years. Consumers in France have always expressed concern over the safety of GM foods and the risk factors associated with health. In 1997, the French government allowed the plantation of Novarti’s genetically modified corn. To respect the public opinion, it agreed not to allow any other genetically modified vegetable species in market until it receives conclusive evidence that genetically modified foods pose no threat to health and the environment” (Levy and Derby, 111).

Since 1998, several steering committees and citizens’ panels have been formed in France to discuss the impact of GM foods on the environment and to inform the government and parliament about the future consequences of using GM foods. All the reports recommend preventing the growth of genetically modified food products in the country (Levidow and Marris, 358).

Trade War between the United States and France over GM Foods

There have been strong disagreements between the United States and France over the EU’s regulation of genetically modified food. Both the countries have been at loggerheads since the GM foods were developed in the United States. Under the WTO regime, France and the US have free-trade agreements. However, EU’s restrictions on GM products resulted in the decline of the US exports of some seeds and grains to France. The US blamed it on France and claimed that these regulations violate free-trade agreements. However, France countered the US position with the argument that any free-trade must be based on mutual agreement and consensus.

“Under the Deliberate Release Directive, enacted in 1990, the European Union regulated Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). France was among the leading European countries who adopted the regulation. The regulation was revised in 2001, which led to a direct confrontation with the United States” (MacKenzie and Silvia, 541).

“The US attacked France and other European countries under the 1994 WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement). The SPS Agreement neither prevents the adoption of national food safety regulations nor establishes binding international standards. However, it limits the power of the states to adopt food safety regulations without any scientific evidence” (McMichael, 99).

The US claimed that France violated the free-trade agreement by placing restrictions on GM Products without any strong scientific proof regarding their negative effects. France always demanded regulations, which will make it mandatory for the GM foods to be properly labelled. It wants to make consumers aware of the ingredients used in the food products. However, the American agricultural industry is arguing for free trade and is strongly opposed to labelling. The American Agricultural Department believes that labelling will create suspicion over genetically modified foods.

The tussle between the United States and France over GM food has snowballed into a trade war. Both the countries are adamant on their stand and it has adversely affected their trade relationship. There is a possibility that both the countries will reach on a consensus soon as this is very much important for success of globalization policy under the WTO regime.

Benefits of Genetically Modified Foods

There are several benefits of genetically modified foods. They offer consumers and farmers a crop with high properties and potential. Most of the genetically modified crops have herbicide resistance. “Some environmentalists believe that GM crops have reduced the emissions of greenhouse gas from agricultural practices” (Vogel, 121).

“The possible benefits of GM foods include powerful control of pests and weeds. It also reduces the use of some agrochemicals. Genetically modified foods enhance the nutritional value and other characteristics of crops” (Vogel, 122). The strongest argument given by the United States in favour of the GM foods is that the development of these foods would resolve the food shortage and starvation problems in the third world countries.

Risks and Dangers Associated with GM Foods

A lot of research has been made on genetically modified foods in the recent years. Although no conclusive evidence has been found on the potential risk factors associated with GM foods, nutrition researchers and environmentalists have given their verdict against their use and development. “It has been reported that toxins and allergens are found in GM foods, which may create health hazards. In 1998, nutrition researcher, Dr Arpad Pusztai, claimed that genetically modified potatoes cause serious damage to the immune systems” (Levy and Derby, 113).

“Several Physicians have pointed out that genetically modified foods may cause viral and bacterial illness and food allergies. If conceived women use genetically modified foods, they might risk birth defects in new-born babies. Genetically modified foods result in the contamination of water supply and food. According to some researchers, side-effects caused by GM foods may be passed on to future generations.” (Nottingham, 78).

Conclusion

There is no consensus over the benefits and dangers of GM foods. It has been noticed that people across the globe are divided on this issue. Claims and counter-claims have made it difficult for the common people to decide on their validity. However, a significant percentage of people including the researchers, physicians and environmentalists have expressed serious concern over the use of genetically modified foods. Although no proper scientific study has shown the negative impact of GM foods on human health, it is true that most people do not wish to use them, fearing health risk.

Bibliography

BBC News. “European Union lifts GM food ban”. 10 January 2006 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3727827.stm>.

Browne, W. P. Private Interests, Public Policy, and American Agriculture. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1989.

Guarino, Elizabeth Toni. Innovation Effects of US Dietary Supplement and Genetically Modified Food Regulation, 29 INT’L BUS. LAW, 2001.

Levidow, L., and Marris, C. Science and Governance in Europe: lessons from the case of agbiotech. Science and Public Policy 28(5), 2001.

Levy, A.S., and Derby, B.M. Report on Consumer Focus Groups on Biotechnology. FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 2000.

MacKenzie, Ruth ; Silvia Francescon. The Regulation of Genetically Modified Foods in the European Union: An Overview, 8 New York University Environment Law Journal, 8(3): 530 – 555, 2000.

McMichael, P. Global Food Politics. Monthly Review, 50(3), 1998.

Nottingham, Dr. Stephen. Eat Your Genes: How Genetically Modified Food Is Entering Our Diet. St. Martins Press, 1998.

Vogel, D. Barriers or Benefits? Regulation in Transatlantic Trade. Washington, DC: Brroking Institution, 1997.

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