Wars for power and domination are not only fought by the military but also via economic means. Maybe you noticed that a United States led coalition has declared yet another global war quite recently. Assisted by Canada and Argentina, the USA has formally asked the World Trade Organization to attack the EU. The American administration has been unhappy for a number of years about the lack of enthusiasm in Europe concerning the development of genetical engineering in laboratories and in fields. It accuses the EU of creating unjustified trade barriers on American products.[:]
European consumer and environmental groups have mostly stated that genetically modified (GM) soya beans, maize, canola and other food crops should be dictated by the needs of people or by a genuine concern about world hunger, not by the interests of large agribusiness corporations. This scepticism in many countries led to civil disobedience by a large number of EU governments against EU regulations, which guide the market approval of new GMO varieties. The resistance has been led by countries such as Austria and Luxembourg and virtually frozen the market approvals in the EU since 1998.
The sceptical EU governments only agreed to stop these actions when sufficient legal guarantees would allow the consumers an enlightened choice between ordinary GMO and organic produce, with the help of proper labelling and separation of GMO seeds from the natural. The legal framework is nearly ready, only the question of liability in case of accidents has remained unsolved. The agriculture ministers of the EU have spent months in discussion under a sentimental title: “Coexistence of GMOs and ordinary plants in the fields.” Only the notion of harmonious coexistence lacks. In practice, no regulations will suffice to stop the appearance of GMO foods on our daily menu – whether we like it or not.
Apparently, after President George W. Bush recently toured Africa blaming the EU for stopping its efforts to end hunger with the help of GMO food aid, the USA decided to proceed with direct action against the EU.
The latest global trade war shows a serious democratic deficit. It is a sign that we, the citizens, should work hard to participate in decisions on which type of food we eat and the kind of agriculture we want to promote. Everyone eats. Very few feel they have an influence over what they eat. Luckily some NGOs act worldwide and represent the critical, but often underpowered when dealing with corporate giants and super powers in global trade wars.
I find it absurd that some leaders actually question the democratic legitimacy of NGOs. As an elected representative of people I must confess that many Members of Parliament have joined the chorus rather belatedly.
Genetical engineering poses new challenges for the way in which decisions are democratically made in our global societies. Experts are not the solution when we feel puzzled. The use of GMOs in our environment is a highly multifaceted political and ethical question. This is why a layperson is just as qualified to participate in the public debate as a doctor of molecular biology. Information is presently available for everyone and not just for the elites.
Norway has successfully experimented with so-called consensus panels, which consist of experts and randomly selected citizens and advises the government. A similar panel has just been established in the UK. A reform of the highly business-biased WTO should likewise include a say to ordinary citizens in its dispute panels.
The official Finnish attitude to GMOs has so far been that it offers great business opportunities in the country. Let us not leave it just to that.
Member of Parliament
(Member of the European Parliament 1995-2003)