Government legislation and corporate influence

A well-informed and active public and a reasonably independent media are vital to balance the multifarious pressures exerted by the corporations, as the activities of the US, the EU and various governments in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union clearly reveal. In the US, the public has been relatively slow to respond to the issue of GM food and until 2000 there was little awareness or activity, so the companies have had a comparatively free hand. The US grew 66 per cent of the world’s GM crops in 2002, and did not take action to segregate GM from non-GM crops. In Europe, on the other hand, resistance was quick to appear and has remained strong throughout most of the region. In the UK, where the government has allowed extensive field trials of GM crops, public opposition has been active and vocal. Experience in Eastern Europe demonstrates that where neither the government nor the people are aware or prepared to resist, the companies readily enter and do not set standards unless they are forced to do so. Thus Romania had 15,000 hectares of GM crops growing before any law was passed, and is now the source of much smuggled GM seed, while the countries of the former Soviet Union are the ‘Wild East’, where anything goes. Yugoslavia had some of the strongest laws in the region, but under cover of field trials the companies have got a foothold, as they have in the UK. In fact field trials are the Trojan horse of the industry, seen clearly as the precursor of commercialisation yet sometimes tolerated by a public that would not accept immediate commercialisation. They can be seen as part of a softening-up process: giving the impression that safety research is being carried out, getting people used to the idea of GM crops, and maintaining the idea that they can flourish alongside conventional and organic agriculture. When Croatia decided to advertise itself as GM-free, it suddenly found itself the object of threats from the US administration. Currently, the EU is faced with US action through the World Trade Organisation, an unelected and unaccountable body with the power to overrule any national government. [...]