An interesting take on the evolution of attitudes toward biotechnology recently appeared on the website of Ag-West Bio, a non-profit, agricultural advocacy organization funded by Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada and Saskatchewan’s provincial Ministry of Agriculture.
Written by Peter Phillips, an international political economist and professor of Public Policy in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, the article, titled, “Europe and GMOs: Perhaps there is a way forward,” outlined a startling change in attitudes among European Union farm policymakers, long considered the world’s most diehard opponents of biotechnology as it’s applied to food production.
While some U.S. agri-business interest might be tempted to say, “Who cares what Europeans think?” the fact that Canada is a major exporter of ag commodities to Europe gives the drive toward official acceptance abroad of genetically engineered crops and commodities a real sense of urgency.
European politicians and regulators are widely viewed as the major barrier to the optimal development, adaptation, adoption and diffusion of biotechnology in the global agri-food system.
Prof. Phillips also noted that the 27 EU member states “produce more food than any other country in the world and are the world’s largest trader in agri-food crops. They cannot be ignored.”
In a presentation last month at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Phillips and a delegation of Canadian regulators and growers outlined the benefits of genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant canola.He noted that the Canadian group discussed the “real and measurable economic returns for farmers and consumers, but explained that the audience “really only perked up when we talked about the environmental effects [of GM canola].”
Of course, a similar story could be compiled for other herbicide-tolerant crops developed with genetic engineering, and indeed there is mounting evidence that such crops require less herbicide usage, in some cases fewer applications and often the ability to switch to less toxic alternatives.
In summary, Phillips wrote, “The lure of more and cheaper food and more profitable farming generated little or no interest. The consensus of those at the event was that only the environmental evidence has any chance of shifting public opinion and eliminating regulatory roadblocks in the EU.”
The missing middle ground