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posted on 19 August 2015

GMOs: Apple of Discord Between America and the European Union (EU)

Written by , GEI Associate

GMOs: also referred to as genetically modified organisms, genetically engineered (GE) herbicide-tolerant (HT) or Bt crops. In simple terms, a GMO is an organism that has been changed by injecting it with genetic material from another species.

Envisioning a world where people's tendency of being fecund will cause famine due to limited resources of food, Thomas Malthus's omen (1798) has proven fallacious - partly because he compared humans to rabbits, lagging in terms of innovation. After Malthus' predictions, burgeoning humanity would (relatively) meet its nutritional needs through dramatic agricultural improvements. These have become viewed as a panacea for hunger. Some are nonetheless controversial, such as genetically engineered (GE) plants which are pesticides-resistant or growth hormones. While America embraced GE planted seeds for commercial use since 1996, across the pond the EU is less dazzled.

Acting like children who do not cease pumping up their balloons until reaching the maximum level of resistance, before blowing up, food-producers have used growth hormones since the 1950s - steroid hormone drugs such as testosterone, estrogen etc. - to have bigger animals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that these are "safe for people to eat, and the drugs do not harm the treated animal or the environment." That may be yet ostensible to say the least as, for example, EU scientists rummaging through growth hormones data reached another conclusion.

Hormone-treated meat is a fundamental cause of disagreement between America and the EU, which has prohibited hormone since 1981. The European Commission specified the prohibition:

"... the use of substances having a hormonal action for growth promotion in farm animals. [...] This prohibition applies to Member States and imports from third countries alike."

Renée Johnson, a specialist in agricultural policy, stated:

"To date, the EU continues to ban imports of hormone-treated meat and restricts most meat exports to the EU to a limited quantity of beef imports that are certified as produced without the use of hormones."

The EU, being composed of 28 members, the likelihood of the group working out of sync cropped up. In particular, Germany's Rot-Grüne Koalition proposed in June a nationwide (cf. at the state level) ban on GE. That being after it banned a Monsanto product— Bt MON810 maize, grown in Spain since 1998.

Within the EU, Spain is to the permissiveness of GE crops what, within the world, the Netherlands is to the lenience of out-of-line behaviors. Spain is EU's largest producer of GE crops - violating thence EU principles on GE. The only one GE crop approved for cultivation in the EU is Bt corn. Unsurprisingly, "Spain is the EU-28's largest grower [over 90%] of Bt corn."

Apart from Finland and the Netherlands and Spain, EU countries are relatively opposed to GMOs cultivation on their lands. Consumers within the EU aren't coaxed by GMOs inoffensiveness; in fact, GMO labels deter the likelihood of retail transactions. This consumer expectation coincides, USDA outlined, with the "limited interest" (due to the uncertainty of the investment) of the private sector "in developing GE crops" (Figure 1.) Finally, in line with investors' expectations, the area planted to corn is expected to dwindle in 2015.

Figure1: Notifications to authorities for open field testing in Spain

Given the controversies surrounding GMOs, American food industries rely on the use of a stout instrument: their public relations. Groups are paid by companies to rave about their products on the media. "Often these groups claim to represent farmers or consumers or some other sympathetic constituency," the Center for Food Safety (CFS) divulged. Front groups can be detected by a word such as "alliance" and "council," CFS remarked. Food companies, moreover, remain in the game by hiring "lobbyists to push for legislation in their favor and oppose laws that hurt their interests."

The tobacco industry used to have a similar approach to its public relations-- distorting "the science around health." CFS specified: "the food industry's current effort to distort science is [...] somewhat more subtle." Concretely, the food industry "discredit critics, and otherwise make the problems disappear from the public's eye." The idea is demeaning opponents, making them sound "conspiratorial."

"There has been a tendency to label anyone who dislikes G.M.O.s as anti-science," according to Mark Spitznagel and Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the NYT, in reference to those neglecting finance's unsustainable path before the financial crisis (2007-2008) in the name of progress and "too big to fail." The authors argued that the GMO experiment too has been creating "another systemic, "too big too fail" enterprise." From this perspective, concerns about GMOs must not be to let no more wither on the vine.

GMOs are, nonetheless, accepted by America' consumers partly because individuals react to incentives. Consumers are influenced by advertisings that can make everything look good. Advertising is for food companies what the hair of Samson was to his strength- as it grows so did his strength; conversely, as it is cut so did his strength. For example, to date there are still people smoking cigarettes despite its proven health hazard; moreover, since tobacco advertising ceased, there was a significant decrease in tobacco smoking. A jarring contrast between Indonesia (where tobacco advertising is legal) and America: in America the smoking prevalence for men is of 21%, in Indonesia is of 72%. Advertisings ultimately turn people into consumers-- going into raptures for advertised-no-matter-what products.

The food industrial complexes have yet another power they are versed in: the bliss point , that consumers can pinned on for craving, for example, chips. When they consume sugary, fatty, or salty products, the bliss point involved offers consumers just about the right, that je ne sais quoi satisfaction—inducing them for having more; especially if these products are cheap.

You can't always get what you want. Albeit consumers seek to be healthy, they are also price sensitive. And, healthy products tend to be relatively more expensive; thence the challenge (Figure 2,) and them hovering between their willingness to eat healthy and their incapability of paying for it.

Figure 2: "Failure to convert knowledge into action." Natural Marketing Institute (NMI)


Resulting actions

Feel that I can manage many health issues through proper nutrition


It can be a challenge to eat healthy


Organic food: a Trojan horse for conventional agriculture? Americans seem to become less tolerant of GMOs given the consumption increase over years of organic vegetables and fruits (Figure 3.)

Figure 3

And the several Farm Acts (Figure 4,) the last one being the Agricultural Act of 2014, which consisted of:

"Federal support for organic production systems, including financial assistance for farmers completing the certification process and funding for organic research."

The Bill was controversial; it, nonetheless, put light on an empirically underrepresented, unconventional, less-productive organic agriculture.

Figure 4

That said, the American diet and behavior towards food is different from the European one. P. Rozin et al (1999) detected a droll between them. Americans, the authors observed, worry more than French about their diet and look more forward making it healthier; paradoxically, it is also Americans who "are least inclined to consider themselves "healthy eaters"." The "French paradox" alludes to the French enjoying fatty foods while remaining healthy. There seems to be an airtight on cross-cultural differences "in the extent to which food functions as a stressor [in America] vs. a pleasure [in France.]" While Americans focus on quantity, French focus on quality (Figure 4.)

Figure 4: When buying food, how important are the following for you personally...? (Euro-barometer 2012)





Where the food comes from (geographical origin)




Quality is related to the composition and freshness of the food, which can be attributed to organic. The organic world is, however, still, David Gould declared, a little mouse, a niche market." The organic share of total agricultural land in the world is petty: 0.98% as of 2013. Still, organic isn't behind the eight ball, as a fraction of consumers refuse being in cahoots with US food industries, chomping at the bit for organic.

According to the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL,) 6 new countries joined the community of organic producers - now composed of 170 countries. However, were it an organic contest, Europe with its 27% of the world's organic land would have won against the 7% of North America.

AMARJIT SAHOTA alleged that one of key challenges for "the organic products industry [] to broaden consumer demand for these products." Sahota specified that Americans and Europeans have a different approach to buying organic. While Americans "buy organic foods because they are perceived to be healthier and more nutritious then conventional foods, in parts of Europe, environmental concerns are the primary purchasing motive." That is to say, to fish more new customers, the organic industry could take into account cultural consumers' intentions, facilitating catalyzing consumers' heed on their organic products.

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