Page:Full Disclosure Appendix, Eighteen Major Cases.djvu/31

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Targeted Transparency in the International Context

other grains, fruits, and vegetables that were resistant to pests or pesticides or enhanced to produce extra vitamins, proteins, or other nutrients. Genetic modification differed from conventional crossbreeding by altering plants at the molecular level, sometimes by combining the DNA of different species. In the pipeline were bioengineered plants that promised drought resistance or immunity to or treatments for specific diseases. However, new benefits were accompanied by questions concerning the possible introduction of allergens when DNA from different species was combined; the long-term environmental effects of pest-resistant crops on beneficial insects, birds, and animals; and the possible creation of “super weeds” or other pesticide-resistant plants or insects from inadvertent crossbreeding between conventional and bioengineered plants. 239

The EU and the United States took different approaches to the introduction of genetically modified food crops in the mid-1990s. The EU regulated genetically modified crops as a novel health and environmental issue, requiring thorough review and risk assessment for each field trial and product introduction. 240 The United States regulated genetically modified crops as a variation on familiar health and safety concerns, allowing many field trials and introductions to take place without government permits. 241

After an informal six-year ban on imports of genetically modified crops, Europe adopted a mandatory labeling regime in 2004. 242 After welcoming genetically modified crops, the United States adopted guidelines for voluntary labeling. 243 As of 2005, however, labeling had not improved the efficiency of international markets or public safety, and both its effectiveness and its sustainability were in doubt.

The European public responded to the sudden introduction of genetically modified foods by the American Monsanto Corporation in 1996 and 1997 with demonstrations and boycotts. Inflammatory headlines warned of the dangers of “frankenfoods”; Green Party representatives cautioned about environmental risks; respected consumer organizations called for product labeling or withdrawal; and Prince Charles, Paul McCartney, and other well-known figures echoed public skepticism about the safety of such foods. Already frightened by risks associated with mad cow disease (risks that initially were downplayed by public officials), an incident of dioxin-contaminated Belgian food, and the spread of hoof-and-mouth disease (none of which had anything to do with genetic modification), European consumers were distrustful of government and commercial assurances of food safety.

In contrast, the American public barely noticed the introduction of genetically modified foods. Antiregulatory sentiment ran high in the United States in the mid-1990s, following gains by conservatives in the midterm elections of 1994. Experts in government and the private sector debated safeguards and determined that no new regulatory system was needed for genetically modified foods. Risks could be considered product by product – just like risks associated with other advancing food technologies. Interestingly, the U.S . food industry favored a mandatory safety assessment for genetically modified foods, although the industry opposed mandatory labeling. 244

In 1998, European Union member states instituted an informal ban on the import of bulk shipments of products that might contain genetically modified organisms, stopped approving genetically modified foods, and required labels on packaged foods already on the market that contained genetically modified corn or soy. In the United States, farmers rapidly increased production of genetically modified crops so that nearly 40 percent of corn acreage and more than 70 percent of soybean acreage was planted with crops engineered to increase resistance to pests or herbicides. Planting such genetically