Having stayed in the United States for a few years sometime ago, I'm quite sure that I've ingested a good amount of genetically modified produce. As far as I can tell, I haven't turned into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or whatever anti-GM campaigners fear. Why is the EU still reluctant to import GM produce even with food costs spiraling? It even maintains a high-cost inspection regime to keep GM-related stuff out of the Eurozone. My hypothesis is that food is more tied with the national identities of several European countries; there's a certain romance to "the land" which simply isn't mythologized to the same degree in the US and elsewhere. The International Herald Tribune points out that the debate in Europe has not advanced at all in over a decade. Let the consumers decide whether to buy "Frankenfoods," I say. The more things change (to food prices), the more (GM opposition) things stays the same:
The European agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, warned farm ministers on Monday that resistance in Europe to imports of genetically modified products was contributing to the rising cost of raising pigs and chickens, and could pose a threat to the meat industry.
Her warning, made during a closed-door lunch in Brussels, highlighted renewed debate over whether Europe could afford to impose tougher rules on genetically modified, or GM, products than other parts of the world.
Some EU officials say the region should maintain its skeptical stance toward the technology on safety grounds, while others argue for a more pragmatic approach to enhance the region's competitiveness and help the agricultural sector.
"Along with our zero-tolerance policy toward GM feed stuffs in Europe there also is a major potential major cost impact," Michael Mann, a spokesman for Fischer Boel, said Monday.
One of the reasons why European policies toward GM feeds raise costs is that ships bound for Europe must be thoroughly cleaned to make sure that feeds are not intermingled with feeds grown using GM seeds that have not yet been approved for use in the EU.
Fischer Boel did not explicitly recommend relaxing EU rules during the lunch, according to one official from an EU member state that broadly opposes GM products. But she seemed to be stepping up pressure for an eventual modification of EU policy, the official said.
Meanwhile, Germany's agriculture minister called on the EU to suspend its approval procedure for new GM crops and seeds, demanding governments undertake a review of how such products can be used in Europe.
This system "should be stopped and we should check: can the procedures stay as they are," Horst Seehofer said before the meeting.
He said that the current system in place, which has already received criticism from several EU nations, is "highly unsatisfactory."
Environmental groups that oppose any slackening of the rules on imports of GM products say many of the arguments used to justify a relaxed policy on GM feed in Europe are specious.
Helen Holder, a GM expert with Friends of the Earth in Brussels, said prices were rising because more farmers in parts of the world like the United States were growing crops for biofuels at a time when demand was rising for crops to feed livestock.
Holder called on the EU to drop proposals to mandate more use of biofuels and change EU rules so that farmers can use more home-grown feeds rather than relaxing rules on imports from parts of the world like the United States.
"The EU needs to stand firm and defend its biosafety rules," she said.