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Political Effects of GM Foods

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 31 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Politics Gm Foods Health Safe Government

While genetically modified (GM) foods have many controversies surrounding their potential effects on human health or the environment, their debate has been further triggered by the political consequences of GM foods.

Power Shift From GM Foods

One of the criticisms against GM foods has been what some consider a power shift away from local, organic farmers to biotechnology companies. Some individuals believe that these companies have gained far too much control over the production of crops and foods. Instead, it is believed that more power and control should be in the hands of farmers and consumers.

The concern that developing nations have become too dependent on GM products is another political issue that has gained attention. Some people fear that the self-sufficiency of developing nations are threatened by huge North American biotechnology companies who obtain sweeping profits from these countries.

Strict Regulatory Laws

Europe has relatively strict regulatory laws for approving GM foods as safe – both on the production and import sides – in comparison with countries such as the United States. As such, the agricultural industry in the United States cites financial losses that are linked to these stringent European laws that make it difficult for GM foods to enter the European Union.

However, another school of thought is that the government laws are not only strict to protect the European public, but that they have been introduced – in part – due to mistrust and disapproval of political choices made by the United States, such as the war in Iraq. The government of the United States did take their concerns to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which resulted in a ruling in favour of the United States.

Zambian Political Crisis

When a developing nation does protest against GM foods, the results can be politically controversial. In 2003, Zambia refused GM foods – primarily maize – from the food program developed by the United Nations. The result was that the population was left without aid, leading to disastrous results given that there was a famine.

However, the government in Zambia later changed its policies and chose to approve GM maize imports. At the same time, it was stated that the ban on GM products must continue, despite allowing imported maize. The hope for Zambia is that it can produce sufficient amounts of non-GM, conventional foods to feed the starving population.

Other Developments In The Politics Of GM Foods

Other countries around the world have spoken out against GM foods. For instance, some have banned all GM foods while others have concerns about how safe the foods are and have chosen to ban only specific GM foods. Venezuela placed a ban on GM foods several years ago while Hungary more recently banned the importation and production of GM maize, despite authorisation in the European Union.

In terms of politics, GM foods will probably continue to have consequences as governments around the world make opposing choices about this technology. At present, the United States remains one of the largest producers of GM foods while in places such as Britain, there has been far more controversy both at the consumer and international levels of politics. Ultimately, research into GM foods should be shared but each country will have to contend with the politics and consequences of its choices about GM foods and the regulation and importation issues in biotechnology.

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