Why The GMO Free Movement in Europe? ~ Carrie Stiles

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“However one defines it, dialogue is a democratic method aimed at resolving problems  through mutual understanding and concessions, rather than through the unilateral imposition of one sides views and interests. For its part, democracy as a system of government is a framework for organized and continuous dialogue.”

– Lakhdar BrahimiFormer Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General 

The GMO free movement in Europe has mobilized diverse stakeholders to participate in regulating the biotechnology industry.

Yet, important stakeholders are marginalized globally by power imbalances in the international political dialogue over genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Indigenous peoples and American Civil society has largely been excluded from participating in the global decision-making process on biotechnology.

European citizens have mobilized on a large scale since 1996 by insisting major food retailers maintain a GM-free policy, demanding respect for the precautionary principle in approving new GM crops and monitoring nations and companies for compliance with the moratorium.

Stakeholders have contributed to the democratic process by holding media-focused symbolic protests against genetic patents, lobbying all levels of government in support of a GM ban and challenging the scientific claims of private industry and government agencies.

European GMO free campaigns have dramatically influenced the biotechnology industry.

Societal demands have influenced governments in Europe to open up the decision-making process to the public. However, the mechanisms of greater participation have not been widely clarified and so participation is fragmentary.

Evaluations of participatory exercises have demonstrated that the actual impact on the decision-making process has been uneven. However, Germany is portrayed as an exemplary model of civic inclusion on biotechnology issues because of clearly defined participatory mechanisms and early engagement on GMOs.

Democratic legitimacy is enhanced when diverse constituencies are included in decentralized deliberations over biotechnology issues.

Many researchers identify a need for the development of social technologies for public participation in discussion, debate and policymaking to counteract marginalization.

Hindmarsh & Du Plessis emphasize the significance of pluralist, inclusive, transparent and accountable decision making in biocivic trends. Through comparative case studies they explore the tensions, needs and opportunities for greater biocivic participation in democratic decision-making. The researchers insist on inclusive public participation at all stages of policy, research, development, release, monitoring and mitigation of GMOs.

Future trajectories of new technologies may be more effectively mapped in terms of potential benefits and harms through early, or ‘upstream’, civil society participation in scientific discourse.

Hayden and Du Plessis (2007) predict innovations in “upstream”, or early public dialogue, will help avoid the pitfalls of the biotechnology industry for future developments. The researchers ask for studies to be conducted on which dialogue processes are most effective that involve a wider group of stakeholders and conceptualize new strategies of engagement.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vaguely considers GMOs to be “substantially equivalent” without allowing labeling or providing a clear legislative definition for an evaluative mechanism.

Yet many active civil society groups in the United States, such as those in the National Organic Coalition, have raised concerns regarding the environmental, health and political risks of untested and unlabeled GE foods and crops.

The FDA’s unilateral decision making denies citizens a chance to engage in the democratic process.

As much as 45 percent of U.S. corn and 85 percent of soybeans are genetically engineered (The Center for Food Safety, 2010). Additionally, an estimated 70-75 percent of supermarket foods contain GE ingredients in the United States.

The direct impact of political mobilization on public opinion and corporations vary. However, it is the ability of citizens to influence legislation and policy that has widespread implications.