Team:Harvard/human practices/world


world views

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USA [top]

The USA is the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered food. 93% of soybeans, 86% of corn, and 93% of cotton produced in the USA is genetically modified. (GMO Compass) The world's first commercial genetically engineered crop was the FlavrSavr tomato, grown in the USA from 1994. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently does not require genetically engineered foods to be labeled.

EU [top]

Unlike in North America, genetically engineered crops comprise only a tiny fraction of all crops grown in Europe. Currently only two genetically engineered products have been approved for cultivation by the European Union, and only one of these, a type of maize, has been approved for human consumption.

One reason for Europe's slow adoption of genetically engineered products is the divide in opinion between member states. A European Union poll showed that over 50% of the Greek and Austrian populations would refuse to eat foods containing genetically engineered ingredients even if they were proven to be healthier than the conventional alternatives. At the other extreme, only 5% of the Maltese population would refuse to consume genetically engineered products under the same circumstances. (Survey results: Europeans and Biotechnology in 2005: Patterns and Trends)

The current European regulations require an application to grow a GMO to be made to a national government. The national government is required to carry out a risk assessment of the GMO but final authorisation of the crop is the responsibility of the European Food Safety Autority and other Europe-wide bodies. Differing opinions between member states have often led to stalemate and it has proven very difficult for applications to gain approval. Member states including Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, and Luxembourg have banned the use or trade of GMOs within their territories. Other countries such as Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Britain are more willing to approve GMOs.

After negotiations in the European Union that concluded in July 2010 it seems likely that GMO decision-making powers will be transferred from Brussels to member states. This presents an opportunity for pro-GM member states to approve the use of GM products for cultivation and human consumption.

Source: European Union: From the Farm to the Fork

Zambia [top]

In 2002 Zambia was plunged into famine after the harvest failed. The Zambian government requested international aid to help its starving citizens and the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) responded by sending thousands of tonnes of food aid. In many of the donor countries such as the USA, GM foods were common so GM grains were included in the aid shipments. While some of its citizens starved, the Zambian government refused to distribute any GM grain due to fears over its safety and environmental impact. The government also refused a further shipment of 40,000 tonnes of grain for the same reasons.

The Zambian government sent a group to study the effects of GM crops in other countries and on their return to Zambia they concluded that "GMOs are a health hazard." Many Zambian doctors and scientist believe that GMOs cause resistance to antibiotics which can lead to the emergence of new toxins. President Mwanawasa stated: "I will not allow Zambians to be turned into guinea pigs no matter the levels of hunger in the country." His decision left 30% of Zambians without enough food before replacement non-GM food could arrive.

Source: UN, Africa Renewal, Vol.16 #4 (February 2003), page 5

India [top]

India has been slowly adopting genetically engineered crops. GM cotton was introduced in 2002 and now approximately 90% of India’s total cotton production is genetically engineered.

In February of 2010, the Indian government refused permission for the first genetically modified food crop to be grown in the country. The crop in question was a pest resistant variety of aubergine (eggplant). The government stated that inadequate scientific consensus regarding testing led them to take a cautious approach to GMO policy. The decision was unpopular with many Indians because it came at a time when food prices were rising steeply due to the poor 2009 monsoon.

(Source: India says no to first GM food crop, AFP)

China [top]

China faces the challenge of feeding one fifth of the world’s population, using one tenth of the world’s farmland. A further concern is a shortage of workers in the countryside, partly fueled by conventional crops’ need for regular treatment with fertilizers and other chemicals. The Chinese government has recognized that genetically modified foods may play an important role in feeding their people, but has proceeded cautiously in adopting the new technology.

Currently, much of China’s cotton production is genetically modified, and genetically modified maize and soybeans are slowly being adopted. Trials of GM rice and corn crops have already been completed, and will likely enter commercial production shortly.