Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Purity At A Price

Europeans tend to pride themselves on the quality of their food. From the hundreds of cheeses that Charles De Gaulle thought made France ungovernable to the hundreds of obscure cuts of meat one can choose from in a German butchershop, European food and culture are often seen as inextricably linked. This commitment to artisanal food may go some distance towards explaining why the European Union ("EU") continues to fight to prevent imports of genetically modified ("GM") food.

Recently, discovery of LL Rice 601, a genetically-modified rice strain resistant to some herbicides, among rice destined for the EU has further harmed the image of food imported from the U.S.. Particularly damaging was the fact that the USDA had previously certified the rice to be non-GM. The EU now looks certain to raise the barriers to non-EU agricultural imports even further.

However, Europeans may find that their even more stringent import standards can be met by fewer and fewer countries with exportable food surpluses. The reason for this is that GM-crops are increasingly displacing non-GM crops not just in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina - major sources of agricultural imports into the EU - but also in the Ukraine, Russia, China, and other developing countries to whom the EU might turn as replacement sources for wheat, rice, corn, and soy. In fact, the EU recently discovered another strain of GM-rice, BT63, in imported food. However, this time the U.S. was not to blame; this GM-rice came from one of the EU's fastest growing non-US food sources: China.

As the EU's options for non-GM food imports narrow further and further, prices of EU food will likely continue to rise. It will be fascinating to see just how much Europeans are willing to pay for their culture of pure food.

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