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In November of 2006, the World Trade Organisation ruled in favour of Canada, the United States and Argentina that the European Union was unreasonably delaying approving the sale of genetically modified organisms to the European market. As Canadian author and activist Murray Dobbin says in recent Tyee article Food Fight: Canada vs. Europe, the EU has been reluctant to accept GMOs into Europe due in part to sustained and aggressive public opposition to GMOs, despite a concerted effort on the part of stakeholders to woo public opinion.

This is no minor issue in Europe. The European Commission has been surveying attitudes towards GMOs in all member states for 15 years now, and despite intense marketing efforts by international agribusiness, the opposition to GMOs only seems to be growing. The EU’s pollsters have discovered a “striking” decline in acceptance of GM foods over recent years even though Europeans are expressing support for other uses of biotechnology.

Helen Holder, GMO campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe, told The Tyee that a triumphalist “We won!” North American attitude over the WTO decision will not wash in Europe. Holder argued the panel’s narrow ruling on technical grounds did not mean Canada and the U.S. could bully Europeans into accepting GM food. She pointed out that the WTO never concluded that GMOs were safe.

The Europeans have until February 11, 2008 to comply with the order, or they will face potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in economic sanctions for their refusal. However, resistance to GMOs is so concrete all over Europe, that even usually pro-US French president Nicolas Sarkozy has stepped into the fray, banning a form of genetically-modified corn that was the only transgenic crop legal for cultivation in France.

Sarkozy’s ban came on the heels of a report by the French government’s scientific authority on GMOs. This report cited new scientific evidence that the GM corn might have a negative impact on insects and its pollen could be dispersed further than previously thought. The report also said new studies suggest it is impossible not to have cross-pollination between GM and non-GM fields.

The scientists advising the French government did not all agree with the conclusions the report drew from the new studies. Sarkozy acknowledged this scientific uncertainty but said “with the principle of precaution at stake, I am making a major political decision to carry our country to the forefront of the debate on the environment.”

Surprisingly, the fact that genetically-modified foods are subject to no sales, marketing or distribution restrictions in Canada is not evidence that we in Canada are any more favourable towards GMOs. In fact, numerous attempts over the years by interested individuals and organisations to compel mandatory labelling of transgenic foods for sale in Canada have been rebuffed.

Despite the relative lack of news coverage of GMOs in Canada, the most recent survey done for the federal government on Canadian attitudes shows they are remarkably similar to those of Europeans. The 2006 Decima survey found: “The main aspect of biotechnology that engenders concern is GM food. Overall attitudes toward GM food tend to be more negative than positive.”

But unlike Europeans, Canadians have not had national governments willing to reflect their views in legislation. In sharp contrast with the EU’s tough regulations, Canada’s labelling standard for GM foods is voluntary, and has proven to be as ineffective as critics warned it would be. This despite the 2003 Decima poll showing 88 per cent of Canadians surveyed wanted mandatory labelling.

Although it is a tough slog in this country, Canadians concerned about GMOs have found some champions for their cause. Some examples of organizational efforts are: CBAN, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Greenpeace Canada’s campaign for mandatory labelling, and RightOnCanada’s online campaign for federal legislation to ban terminator seeds.

Via Murray Dobbin’s social activism mailing list.

Resources:
A blog post on the Tyee article – on RightOnCanada.ca’s blog
A damning summary of Canada’s attempts to sabotage Ireland’s anti-GMO stance – on GMFreeIreland.org
FoodSecurity.org – North American food security advocacy organisation – see also Heal the World: FoodSecurity.org

3 Responses to “Food fight: Canada attempts to force Europeans to accept our GMOs”

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