Wednesday, President George W. Bush heavily criticized the European Union for its moratorium that stops the United States from exporting certain genetically engineered foods to its countries. This is understandable, as Europe is a valuable market for U.S. farmers, but to insinuate that this moratorium causes people in Africa to starve is factually and morally wrong.
While it is true that genetically engineered plants have a higher crop yield than “normal” agricultural plants, Bush’s main concern in this case is monetary.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the loss of sales of genetically modified corn is estimated to be around $300 million annually. This does not take into account all the other genetically engineered crops, such as soybeans.
European Union countries currently enforce a licensing system on all genetically engineered foods. Such foods must be clearly labeled and tell the consumer what genetically engineered ingredients are in the foods they consume. In response to consumer concerns, the granting of new licenses is extremely rare.
Bush claimed that European resistance to genetically engineered food is preventing the cultivation of such crops in Africa. The president termed European concerns about genetically engineered food as “unfounded, unscientific fears.”
To call these fears “unfounded” is misleading, as there is currently no conclusive proof whether the foods are safe or dangerous. It is unknown whether engineered plants will affect ecosystems into which they are introduced– be it planned or accidentally. Once they are introduced, however, it will be hard to get rid of them again, as was the case with the introduction of non-indigenous species to Florida, such as the Brazilian pepper tree.
There is also some doubt that genetically manipulated foods are safe for human consumption. Some experts have suggested that such foods could potentially cause resistance to antibiotics and other medication in their consumers. It is therefore understandable that Europe wants to maintain strict control over the sale of genetically engineered food in the continent.
To suggest that this caution is the cause of starvation in African nations is twisting the facts. The massive amounts of corn and other foods in storage that the United States is keeping off the market in order for the price to remain stable could also be used to alleviate hunger in developing countries. While these stockpiles are slowly rotting away on American soil, Bush is on shaky moral ground pointing a finger at Europe for food shortages in the developing world.