GMOs Part of U.S. – E.U. Trade Negotiations

In an effort to streamline trade regulations between the United States and the European Union, the world’s largest trading partners have opened discussions this week, with plans to discuss everything from food and pharmaceuticals to automobiles.  While these transatlantic talks have become a priority for the Obama Administration, parties on both sides of the Atlantic worry that consumer standards may weaken as a result.

One of the most complicated topics of discussion expected will be on the restriction of genetically engineered foods.  The European Union has long held concerns regarding genetically engineered foods, exemplified by only allowing cultivation of one GE crop over the past 14 years, and enforcing labeling on all GE ingredients.  As a result, American GE crop exports to Europe have plummeted; for example, soybean exports have dropped by 82 percent since 1998.

After witnessing not only Europe’s cautious approach to GE foods, but the commitment of 64 countries around the world to require labeling of GE ingredients, Americans are now demanding the same right to transparency in our food system.  Polling shows that more than 90% of the Americans population favor labeling, and more than 25 states have already introduced GE labeling legislation this year.  With legislative wins already in Connecticut and Maine, and major retailers, such as Whole Foods and Target, making commitments to label GE products, it seems that the path to greater transparency is well underway.

The logical thought would be that with such great momentum for labeling building here in the states, the U.S. would begin to mirror Europe’s longstanding transparency efforts, paving the way for increased trade.  However, there is a possibility that the U.S. will begin to push Europe to loosen its standards.

Owen Patterson, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs, has already stated that Britain’s government is ready to “roll out the red carpet” for development of GE crops, in an effort to be “at the forefront of the global race.” It remains to be seen whether Britain’s changing opinion will resonate throughout the rest of Europe, and make a dent in the region’s hard line policies on food safety.

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