Europe Ends Ban on Genetically Enhanced Crops?


The 5 year European ban on genetically modified crops (GMOs) is over? Not really. The EU is adopting scientifically unjustifiable labeling and traceability regulations on GMOs that are the moral equivalent of maintaining the ban. You don't believe me? Then perhaps you'll believe a spokesperson from Britain's Friends of the Earth who forthrightly declared on National Public Radio that the new regulations are "an important step on the road to GMO-free Europe." This is trade war by other means.

NEXT: Better, Stronger, Faster, Freer?

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  1. Hey Jozef,

    Since you love the European way of life so much, and I love the American way, what say we swap passports?

    (Note for the humor impaired: I’m only joking! Not about liking the American way though …)

  2. Whoa, Ron– I challenge you to point to any language even remotely suggesting I want to REQUIRE labelling. I asked if you were willing to ALLOW it. I believe I emphasized the terms “allow” and “voluntary” pretty heavily in my initial post. Same thing goes for Mr. “Anon 1045”: “free market in information” means exactly what it says. Neither require NOR forbid labelling. Simply give producers and retailers the CHOICE of whether to label, and let consumers decide.

    So how ’bout it, Ron? Do you want to prohibit voluntary labelling of GM foods, or not? And if not, do you want regulatory prohibitions of such labelling, food libel laws, or what? And if labelling is allowed, ending the ban may be largely a moot point.

    I’m for getting government entirely out of the business of setting labelling requirements. Are you?

  3. Jozef – if you think that there are more civil liberties in Europe than in the US, you are truly, truly delusional, my friend. Among a few civil liberties that are significantly impaired in Europe are:

    (a) Freedom of speech.

    (b) The right to keep and bear arms.

    (c) The right to a jury trial and the right to representation by counsel.

    (d) The right to be free of arbitrary searches and seizures.

  4. And that’s just the first 4 on our Bill of Rights. (There’s a reason why they were first.)

  5. So should private producers and distributors be ALLOWED to VOLUNTARILY add (ahem) “scientifically unjustifiable” information on GM content? Or would a free market in information, allowing the consumer decide for himself what is “scientifically justifiable” for him to know, also be the moral equivalent of continuing the ban?

  6. It seems the maturity and wisdom of the consumer, who can make his own decisions and doesn’t need to be shielded by the nanny state, goes out the window when he’s given the ability to decide whether or not to eat GMOs. The poor dears can’t be expected to decide for themselves, can they?

  7. Gentlemen, why require government mandated labels that have nothing to do with safety or efficacy?Down that road lies mandatory labels based on environmental claims or labor standards or any other social policy someone wants to impose. If companies believe that they can gain some market advantage by labeling their products as GMO-free, by all means let them do so. Besides, if consumers want to avoid GMOs for whatever silly reasons, they can buy organic at a 30 percent mark up now.

  8. Monsanto must have one hell of a 401(k) plan or pay for some damn nice golf vacations for “libertarian” journalists, because Mr. Bailey sure does a good and dogged job of repackaging their press releases as “news analysis” on a regular basis. I’m sure that job offer is on its way, Ron. Just keep at it!

    I resent the condescending strawman portrayals of the anti-GMO-food stance. I think GMOs should be strongly regulated and be kept out of the croplands and the food supply unless a given GM organism–after rigorous analysis–is found to have a massive environmental and/or humanitarian benefit. I am not stupid or superstitious and I know damn well that a carrot engineered to be rich in potassium isn’t going to grow a third eye on my forehead or insult my dog. I am mainly concerned that the cultivation of GMOs pushes out the unmodified species, both through interbreeding and through the harmful effects of the intentionally sterile GMOs on the reproductive abilities of the unmodified species and on other organisms in the food chain. Sterile GM corn plants put sterile pollen into the air, for instance.

    Like I said, I know that the overwhelming majority of GM foodstuffs are utterly and completely nontoxic, that rice with Vitamin E won’t harm me because it’s just that: rice with Vitamin E. Still, I’m concerned about the externalities of GM agriculture–its impact on unmodified varietals, its impact on other species and on soil and water, the impact of pesticide-producing plants on farm workers, the impact of GM crops–sterile or not–on the crops and businesses of farmers downwind from the GM farms, and also the impact on nutrition. Maybe I don’t want Vitamin E in my rice or protein in my apples, and would want to know whether I’m getting a nutritionally predictable apple or one with something unexpected.

    In any case, why I or anyone else vehemently resents eating or encountering GMOs is irrelevant. It’s my right to not want to eat them and to stand up for the growers who are being squeezed out of business by them for reasons unrelated to the marketplace. In order for me, as an individual, to make decisions for myself, to choose whether or not I want to eat a given GMO or give money to the parties producing or selling them, I’m afraid that means there has to be labelling and segregation in the distribution network. To argue the opposite–that those who want to opt out should shoulder the burden of building not only the “non-GMO” distribution and labeling systems (which in their current “organic food” role already bother Mr. Bailey to no end) but also hermetically sealed growing environments to keep the pollen and wondblown seeds of GMOs from sterilizing their crops smacks of a sort of fuck-the-ignorant-peasants misanthropy at best and of a whiff of pay-for-play journalism at worst.

    Good for the EU. It’s shameful that the green viewpoint is successfully slandered as unpatriotic here.

  9. why do “free markets in information” or “free markets of ideas” always involve using force to prevent contracts between consenting adults?

  10. As with the war in Irak, this policy simpy reflects popular opinion. Many Europeans find absolutely no contradiction in smoking cigarette after cigarette as they expound on the health risks of GMO’s.

  11. Mr. Bailey, I can understand your objection to the labelling requirement, but it seems to me like there is a wide gulf between banning a substance and requiring a label.

  12. Fine, then we’ll allow for gubmint farm subsidies, gubmint fisheries, a gubmint school system, a gubmint mail-delivery system, gubmint forests and gubmint national parks — only after rigorous analysis — and only after these undertakings are found to have a massive environmental and/or humanitarian benefit.

    (“wondblown seeds nothwithstanding)

  13. TM: The problem is that the labeling requirements dramatically increase the transactions costs for what is already a very low margin business (namely farming and grocery production). How? By requiring that GMO bulk grains and non-GMO bulk grains be segregated and a paper trail maintained for up to 5 years from farm to fork. This means building a whole new grain handling infrastructure, e.g., farm harvesting equipment, silos, train cars, ships, mills, and packaging facilities. Plus the administrative costs of maintaining the records, plus any causes of action arising from GMO “contamination.” All for absolutely no improvement in human or environmental safety. As a rich society, I suppose we can do this if necessary, but my main concern is really what happens to poor farmers in the developing world who could really benefit from the productivity boosts that only available through genetically enhanced crops. Their usually corrupt governments may well decide not to let their poor farmers have GMOs just so that they can retain their access to the hard currency markets in Europe for their cash crop exports. In other words, labels have consequences, often dire consequences.

  14. I don’t really care what I’m eating (I’m sure I just ate more GM food for lunch than an European eats in a week), but I have to acknowledge the fact that I didn’t vote for any of those European governments. Every nation should have the right to handle its own affairs, and while I may not like the result, it’s the people in that particular nation who express their desires through electing a certain government, not me. As such, I fully support the labeling requirement for GM food, not out of any health concerns, but from the simple acknowledgment that the European governments have the right to do so.

  15. Careful, there, Jozef – first, the EU requirements do no emanate from an elected government, they emanate from EU bureaucrats who (which? hmmm) have not been elected by anyone.

    Second, you want to be very careful going down the path of “an elected government has the right to do whatever it wants,” which seems to be a fair paraphrase of your last sentence. Down that road lies the tyranny of the majority. Some things should not be done even by governments that are elected.

  16. I know I am running the danger of the “tyrany of the majority” (after all, even Saddam was elected, in a sense). However, the EU bureaucrats are still being elected – both directly and indirectly. Elections to the European Parliament are direct, in each country. As for the bureaucrats, they are appointed by the ruling parties in each country, which, in a little stretch, can be compared to the electorial college, “appointing” the President.

    However, I can well imagine myself to be an European one day (something I’m working hard to achieve; I’m getting disenchanted with the lack of civil liberties in the US and the length of vacation time). As such, I would prefer to have more information over less information. I would vote for a government that would promise to expand the right on information for me. And I would be very mad if some foreign government came in and tried to take this right away from me.

  17. you don’t trust the US government, yet you trust the EU for your infomration

    plus you want “free” vacation

    don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out

  18. Europe Ends Ban on Genetically Enhanced Crops… Poor Still Go Hungry

  19. Mr. Bailey: you seem to miss that I am fully aware that a plant bred or engineered to have sterile pollen generally doesn’t reproduce. Nevertheless, the sterile pollen introduced into the insect-and-plant systems that neighboring non-GM farms depend on diminishes the chances for reporductive success on those old-fashioned farms–more so when the pollen in question is toxic to the insects that traditional farms depend on. There is also uncontestable evidence that transgenic traits from supposedly sterile GM corn have become endemic to populations of non-GM corn, most famously in Mexico. How these genes made their way into non-GM corn is the topic of debate–occurrence of nonsterile pollen in ostensibly sterile plants? Through bacteria and viruses hosted by corn? No matter; it’s there.

    Like the people who write the Big Biotech press kits you recycle, the folks who propose those EU guidelines and write those journal articles that point to reason for caution in GMO proliferation are scientists too. Both sides and all the shades in between have PhDs and peer-reviewed science in their laptop bags. In the end, it’s a weighing of the good (tomatoes that keep for months; corn that generates its own pesticide; a more lucrative, patent-protected seed business for Monsanto, etc.) and the bad (extinction of heirloom tomatoes through transgenic contamination; increasingly pesticide-resistant insects that ravage non-Bt corn and put non-GM farmers out of business; monoplistic pricing for sterile seeds, etc.)

    Denying the very existence of damaging externalities brought about by GM agriculture, however smugly and condescendingly it’s done, is denial all the same. Whether your denial comes from the direct profit motive that drives most think-tanks, from an aversion to reading scientific literature not published by a pharmaceutical or biotech company, from a crush on those Randian Supermen who run ConAgra, ADM and Monsanto, or from a Randian contempt for anyone who would dare stand in the way of those Supermen and their appointment with Destiny is beyond me. What I do know is that the tone of Authoritative Scientific Certainty you attach to your selectively-“researched” pieces makes them less trustworthy than most of the other content in Reason, which otherwise seldom pretends to be anything more than ideologically driven thought and opinion.

  20. Europe Ends Ban on Genetically Enhanced Crops. Poor Still Go Hungry — thanks to dictators, scheming politicians, and assorted bureacrats.

    Marketplace solves problems.

    Dictators, politicos, and bureacrats put up the roadblocks. (What else is new?)

  21. Mr. Koppelman … Mr. Bailey, I?ve got an idea …

    Why don’t the two of you simply exchange email addresses and go duel it out on a private battleground. This thread is way over my head. Besides, using this venue, the two of you will never come to see eye-to-eye anyway.

    Ron, choose your weapon, and go 10 paces to the west. Koppy, choose your weapon, and go 10 paces to the east. Then turn around and face each other. But be careful, Ron! Koppy?s got a unified theory of almost everything, so watch your back!

  22. T. Hartin: It depends on personal preference. To be honest, I don’t really mind the gun restrictions in Europe, for example. However, in Europe, you don’t get killed for having less than an ounce of pot, and you don’t get punished for placing posters that may offend a small group of people (both examples from recent Hit & Run stories). You also don’t get sued for discrimination for saying a few blonde jokes, you don’t get arrested for indecent exposure when in your own house with the lights out, wisible only with a binocular, and you don’t get prosecuted for having “discriminatory” posters (Playboy style) in your dorm room, which are not visible from the outside (all personal experiences). So far, the political correctness, which upsets me the most in the US, has not gotten out of hand in Europe.

  23. Koppelman, despite questioning my integrity without any basis to do so, two points–(1) genes for sterility by definition can’t spread, they’re sterile. And it’s an excellent way to prevent the spread of any transgenes you might be worried about into either conventional crop plants or wild species. (2)It is already the case that any crop which is “substantially” different in nutritional quality will have to be labeled under FDA regs. So in other words, you have nothing to worry about. Cheers.

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