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Agribusiness

The European Parliament should come clean about the safety of genetically modified food.

The European Parliament’s move to accept the importing of genetically modified foods seems like a step in the right direction. But in fact, it will do nothing to tear down trade barriers or change the negative image Europeans have of so-called Frankenfoods, most of which are produced by U.S. food or agbio companies like Monsanto (see “Monsanto,” page 22, of the Journal, Issue 3).

Parliament’s decision allows the sale of GM products, with the stipulation that items with 0.9% or greater GM content be clearly labeled with that information. Unfortunately, in any European grocery, a GM seal is like the mark of the devil, so the label will function mainly as a convenient red flag for consumers, quickly resulting in an effective ban. Equally problematic is the requirement that producers prove the origin of their GM ingredients. This is not only difficult on a practical level, it’s needlessly expensive for business.

We don’t expect Brussels to admit that its real gripe is with big U.S. conglomerates and the cheaper, higher-quality agricultural products that biotechnology has made possible. And it would be asking too much for Parliament to acknowledge that European countries (France in particular) continue to use tariffs and various forms of protectionism to maintain antiquated, overstuffed farm subsidies.

But European leaders could show good faith by explaining to European environmental groups, health officials, restaurateurs, and the public the reality of genetically modified food: that although the unintended ecological consequences of genetically modified foods are not completely known, their effects upon human health are well understood. After all, Americans have been eating the stuff for years without incident.

For our part, American food processors, politicians, and agbio firms would do well to admit that U.S. firms sullied their reputations in Europe by ignoring popular concerns about GM food—and could begin their own efforts to educate Europeans on the subject.

Both sides of the Atlantic will have to find a way out of this food fight. Let us not forget that it is not only trans-Atlantic trade that suffers in this feud, but hungry countries in Africa that have followed Europe’s lead in eschewing GM food and seeds, whether prompted by health concerns or simply, as the Bush administration maintains, because they are reluctant to plant GM crops for fear of losing their European trading partners.

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Leaders

Paying for vital drugs for poor countries.

Open source for science.

» American GM foods in Europe need a carrot and a stick.

By Invitation

Jay Ogilvy

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