A few days ago, Mark Lynas, a British environmentalist who led the charge against the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, announced that he has reevaluated his position. As a major crusader against genetically modified farming, he previously wrote a piece titled “The world trade organisation and GMOs,” where he warned that “the WTO will increasingly remove people's right to choose healthy food and a safe environment for themselves and their children” (here, gated). Coming from such an outspoken critic, his reconsideration of these earlier views seems like it might carry some weight. I imagine that is why his announcement -- and apology(!) -- made such a splash (see here, and here).
To readers of this blog, the GMO debate might recall the “US-EU Beef Hormones” dispute (one of the longer running trade conflicts). There, EU countries prohibited the import of certain meat products from the US, because the products contained genetically modified hormones. The US challenged the ban, asserting that it violated the EU’s WTO commitments. The EU argued, in response, that it should be permitted to invoke an exception to its WTO obligations: GMOs are harmful, and thus a ban of their importation is justified. The case was tried before a WTO panel and then went to the Appellate Body. In short, the WTO determined that there was a lack of scientific evidence supporting the EU’s position on GMOs, and the EU ban was deemed illegal. Choosing not to implement the WTO ruling, the EU faced authorized retaliation from the US. This retaliation took the form of tariffs on certain EU products, to the tune of an annual trade value of $116.8 million. (See here for a summary of the case.)
Anyway, back to Lynas. I wonder what his decision/announcement really means for policy on GMOs. In his remarks, Lynas characterized the GMO debate as “over.” On the one hand, maybe his announcement suggests a sea change in scientific/public opinion on GMOs? (...I know nothing about the science of GMOs, or any relevant survey work done on this). On the other hand, though, a few areas of the US have recently considered legislation relating to mandatory GMO labeling. A GMO-related bill was introduced yesterday in New Mexico, and last week in Washington (here). In California, a couple months ago, voters considered a ballot initiative that would have required the labeling of food with genetically modified ingredients. The CA measure was rejected, though the vote was pretty close (here). Maybe efforts such as these have been ongoing and just flew under my radar. In any case, it’ll be interesting to see how these bills play out, and whether Lynas's high-profile announcement has any impact on their fate.
(h/t Kyle Goehner)
(h/t Kyle Goehner)