Subcommittee G Section 1
The European community has taken a very cautious approach toward genetically engineered foods. The motivations are largely cultural. Europeās situation is much different than that of any other region in the world, and their policies reflect these differences.
Regulations are being imposed on a variety of levels of government. Most notably, the European Parliament, individual European nations, and individual stores themselves have all imposed restrictions on genetically altered foods.
According to the European Parliament records from 02/14/97, manufacturers must label all food that might have genetically manufactured ingredients. This includes food with genetically manufactured organisms, food with an intentionally modified molecular structure, and food that has been isolated for microorganisms, fungi, and algae. (8) Furthermore, the genetically altered food must not mislead the consumer, present any danger to the consumer, or differ from the food that it is intended to replace so that the altered food is a nutritional disadvantage to the consumer. Next, manufacturers must apply for permission to market their product in a particular country in the European Union for the first time. (8) A thorough investigation regarding the possible effects must be performed to ensure safety. Also, any genetically altered food must be labeled with its composition, nutritional value and effects, and the intended use of the food. (8) Finally, a country in the European Union can suspend the sale of a particular type of food immediately if new evidence surfaces that the previously approved food is, in fact, unsafe.
Some individual countries are also implementing their own standards to ensure the public safety. Leading the way in this area are France and Germany. Germany passed the Act Regulating Genetic Engineering in 1993. It put into place 16 groups that investigate the safety of all the genetically altered food that is sold in Germany. In September 1998, France decided not to authorize Novartis Seeds to market three strains of genetically altered maize in France. Last July, France imposed a two-year moratorium on approvals of all rapeseed varieties amid concerns that the genetic modifications could be transmitted to other crops. The Belgian firm Plant Genetic Systems developed two of the varieties. (5) At the same time, though, France approved the sale of two other maize varieties developed jointly by Monsanto (USA) and AgrEvo (Germany). (5)
Finally, some stores are cracking down on the sale of genetically engineered foods. Franceās Auchan and Carrefour have both outlawed genetic engineering in their own brands of food. (4) The British store J. Sainsbury Pic eliminated genetic engineering from its foods one year ago. In Carrefour, 1,783 products have been taken off the shelves. Another 286 had alternate ingredients substituted for the possible genetically modified organisms. (4)
There are several cultural motivations to strictly regulate genetically modified foods in Europe. First, Europe is the most densely populated continent in the world. They have high levels of small farmers. This is unlike other areas including the United States, Canada, and Asia, where the land can support large areas of farmland. In order to maintain agriculture in Europe, many European countries subsidize their farmers. (1) Furthermore, European people tend to value their culture immensely. Accordingly, they resent foreign influence on their culture. Many Europeans tend to associate genetic engineering with American-style agriculture. (1) French farmers have accentuated the hostile feelings by referring to American beef fed with genetically engineered hormones as "le mal bouffe." (2) In the United Kingdom, British newspapers have dubbed genetically engineered products as "Frankenstein foods." (7) The British author Brewster Keen is marketing a book entitled "Farmageddon" that links bioengineered seeds with mechanized agriculture. (1) Furthermore, recent scares like mad cow disease have greatly affected public perception of genetic engineering as well. (5) Therefore, Europeans hesitate to embrace genetically modified foods.
There are a few scientific motivations for the legislation as well. In a recent study, scientists concluded that BT corn, a genetically altered variety, releases an insecticide into soil. While the effects of the release are not yet known, studies like this are contributing to the push for legislative control. (12) Mostly, though, the lack of scientific information regarding the effects of genetically modified food is what helps to motivate the cautious policy. Many of the effects of genetic modifications are not currently known. People easily associate genetic tampering with some sort of alien organisms. While this might seem ludicrous, the fear of the unknown, especially crossing species barriers, can cause great wariness among people. Insecticides, on the other hand, do not change the plant itself and can be tested for possible harmful effects. It is difficult to decide whether or not genetically engineered organisms are safe. Scientific studies regarding insecticides are much more numerous. Therefore, many European countries hesitate to confirm genetic engineering too hastily. Accordingly, if the world finally embraces genetically engineered food, most European countries will be among the last to submit to more lax regulations.
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