G.reedy, M.indless, O.utrageous

Article published on June 2, 2003
community published
Article published on June 2, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

With MEPs due to vote on whether to strengthen the legislation for the labelling of GM food in just a few weeks, one more string on the consumer puppet looks to be cast off. But there a few more invisible strings that still need to be cut, to awake that more latent fear of 'what is happening to our environment?!'

As compulsive, insatiable consumers, spun on our base, yet almost manic instinct to survive, it is only natural that we are weak at the feet of those who supply us with our daily bread. We surrender to the bright packages, with their sunny cornfields and happy farmers happy because they work for the "friendly" supermarket who wants to reward their customers and offer them this substantially reduced price. You may even buy 2 or 3 because there won't be a special offer like that next weekyes, offer. The word implies choice, does it not? And yet, we are anything but making a choice. Neither an informed one, nor a considered one. Our consumer habits are dictated, day in, day out. And even when we want to make the choice and break out of our habits, when we're made to feel at threat from our own buying, we can't. Because on that package, we can't see "GMO Risks: and the following that we ought to know but don't."

Several food crises later, it is quite incredible that it is only now that we, the consumer body and its watchdogs, are able to know what is and isn't genetically modified in the foods that we eat. For years, we thought we knew everything; we are what we eat was something of an unsettling modern proverb, particularly if we liked Mars Barsfried. But at least we could keep track of what we were 'becoming', as it were. Now, we only think we might be at risk, but because we haven't been provoked by a direct fear, we remain, as we do, slightly passive, and thus ignorant. We sit and we wait for the next crisis, and the cry of 'GMOs!' that pursues it failing to mark that yet again, the legislation has come that little bit too late, and feebly, almost apologetically so.

It is little wonder then that we have failed to make an outcry about the effect that GMOs are having upon our environment. We find it hard enough to look ahead and imagine a world beyond our own lifetime, let alone feel a responsibility for it. Yet we need our imaginations to feel responsibility precisely what we, writhing in the consumer trap, are denied. It doesnt just stop at being able to choose 'identifiable' food. It is much more serious than that. We are prevented from imagining an even more rapid and phenomenal loss of wildlife, imagining new disease problems and epidemics, imagining. evolutionary change. And we can't feel responsible for something we can't imagine.

Science has always assumed a sort of dictatorship in our society and understandably so. It is the only 'field' that has satisfactorily explained where we come from. But with it, has come an arrogance, and hasty under-estimations. Already underestimated is the risk of GM transference to supposedly non-GM crops. A 2002 report by the European Environment Agency described that certain genetically modified crops, namely oilseed rape, can transfer their transgenic traits to conventional varieties that are grown 4km away. English Nature, an official advisory body to the UK government, found in the same year that altered genes can turn plants into weeds that are harder to control, forcing farmers to use stronger and more environmentally damaging pesticides. Subsequent to this, we open a whole new can of worms with the question of environmental liability: who will foot the bill for the environmental damage? if indeed it can be traced back to anyone, or detected in sufficient time and with sufficient means. As the US would have it, the latter would not be an issue and with a trading partnership in full swing, Europe would have some trouble aligning its environmental standards.

We need more time to understand the long-term environmental implications of GM crops before they're allowed to be grown wherever the big gun industries want to plant their lucrative seeds. In the Third World, farm organisations have publicly come out against agricultural biotech, challenging their loss of control over seeds and food sovereignty, and the erosion of genetic diversity. But its seems that developing countries don't have much of a choice in the matter. Translated into American, a Third World country being cautious about an innovation that encroaches upon an already fragile landscape is stubborn pride. "Biotech food helps nourish the world's hungry population." U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick claims. If this were really true, if this was where US interest really lay, then why is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spending only 1 percent of its biotech research budget on risk assessment and nothing on environmental impact assessment? Because, by 2010 this technology and industry will represent a business of US$ 1.7 trillion worldwide. Yes, a business. Surprise.

The US administration's case in the WTO against the EU's Moratorium on GMOs is just one of many attempts by the US to bulldoze through attempts by other states to set minimum environmental standards. And unless the European Commission and national governments take up its right to say no to GMOs, this could be the biggest bulldozing that Europe sees yet.