Organic Consumers Association

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Attitudes on Crops Are Modifying

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

AUSTIN, Texas - On the subject of genetically modified foods, the United States and Europe could hardly be farther apart. U.S. grocery stores are well stocked with genetically modified cereals and other products, while Europeans have found ways to keep them off the shelves.

But recently, a few fissures have appeared on both sides of the Atlantic.

In pockets of the United States, momentum is building behind the concept of labeling genetically modified foods (crops whose genetic makeup is altered to increase yields and to more effectively resist problems like pests and drought). Such labels are already required in the European Union and Australia.

In Europe, concern about genetically modified foods remains entrenched, but the British government has recently signaled a new openness. In a forceful speech last month, Owen Paterson, the secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, said that the government was prepared to "roll out the red carpet" for research and development of new agricultural technologies, including genetically modified crops, so that Britain could contribute to bolstering of global food supplies.

"When it comes to developing and benefiting from G.M. technology, I want the U.K. to be at the forefront of the global race, not watching from the sidelines," said Mr. Paterson, whose speech indeed incited a vigorous debate in Britain. (Another member of Parliament told The Independent newspaper that Mr. Paterson had "swallowed the industry line hook, line and sinker without talking to anyone with a different view.")

Whether these developments will be followed by a narrowing of trans- Atlantic policy differences relating to genetically modified products remains to be seen. This week, U.S. and E.U. officials have been meeting in Washington to begin work on a far-reaching trade agreement. Genetically modified crops are one of the most complicated issues under discussion, according to William A. Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a U.S. group that advocates for lower trade barriers.    
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