Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

The Economics of GMO food

Written by on . Published in Free Trade: Bane or Benefit?

85 percent of all corn in the United States is genetically modified. Photo taken by Steven Depolo on flickr (CC BY 2.0).

85 percent of all corn in the United States is genetically modified. Photo taken by Steven Depolo on flickr (CC BY 2.0).

The European Union already has some trade agreements and is currently having talks about others with some of the key regional and global economies. The US is the EU’s largest trading partner accounting for 14.3 percent of EU trade. So it seems only logical to establish a free trade agreement between the US and the EU in the shape of TAFTA. Tariffs between the EU and the US are relatively low and average out at three percent. A free trade agreement would make access to the US market easier by reducing bureaucracy, and would increase export revenues further.

Germany’s export revenue would, for example, increase by three to five billion euros. Consumers would benefit by paying less and having more product choices – also in terms of food products. However, especially when it comes to food, there’s a huge difference between the US and the EU market. In the US,90 percent of all soy and 85 percent of all corn is genetically modified. US food producers don’t even have to indicate whether their products are GMO or not.

In Europe, it is not allowed to grow GMO crops, but European farmers and food producers use imported genetically modified soy to feed their livestock, and they also process imported genetically modified starch. Food producers in the EU have to indicate on the packet whether the product contains any genetically modified ingredients such as modified cornstarch. However, most EU citizens – 61 percent of them! – don’t want GMO food at all. Three-quarters of Germans prefer to buy food labeled as non-GMO and 72 percent of French people say it’s important for them to have access to GMO-free food.

Most Germans and also other Europeans are against GMO food and seeds. Photo taken by Daniel Voglesong on flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Most Europeans are against GMO food and seeds. Photo taken by Daniel Voglesong on flickr (CC BY 2.0). 

There are a couple examples that demonstrate the differences when it comes to this issue: in the US, it is allowed to feed cows with hormones so they give more milk, it is allowed to treat chicken meat with chlorine, and it’s allowed to slaughter cloned animals. All of this is forbidden in the EU. What’s going to happen in this field when the US and the EU come together? Who is going to come out on top? It’s very likely that EU will be eroded the way they are being already. Recently after lengthy discussions the EU finally allowed lactic acid for meat disinfection giving in to a request from the US Department of Agriculture.

The US food industry lobby and enterprises would probably do anything to avoid GMO labeling in the EU – fighting GMO labeling in California is now the food lobby’s “highest priority”. Between 1998 and 2004, when the EU implemented a temporary ban on GMO seeds hindering imports from the US, the US complained to the World Trade Organization saying this was protectionism.

It already annoys me when supermarkets or vendors don’t indicate the origin of the fruits and vegetables they sell. It would definitely freak me out if I couldn’t know that the food I eat was genetically modified. And I think many fellow Europeans feel the same.

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Rani Nguyen Rani

Rani Nguyen, 27, is passionate about human rights work. He currently is involved in Europe’s largest career fair for LGBTs and people wanting to get inspired and connect with progressive organizations — STICKS & STONES. There he is mainly responsible for the organization and development of 24/7UNICORN, Europe’s leading LGBT Diversity Congress bringing HR and diversity managers from major national and international organizations together. Prior to joining STICKS & STONES, Rani worked as an assistant and speech writer to Thomas Sattelberger (former board member at Deutsche Telekom, Continental, Lufthansa), where his area of focus were topics such as demographic challenges, women in top positions, inclusion of minorities and migrants etc. He also has been published in some of Germany’s most important media (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Deutsche Welle, taz). Rani holds a B.A. in French Philology with minors in Spanish and Dutch from Freie Universität Berlin.