The transatlantic agbiotech conflict: a policy problem and opportunity for EU regulatory policies

Levidow, Les (2006). The transatlantic agbiotech conflict: a policy problem and opportunity for EU regulatory policies. In: Falkner, Robert ed. The International politics of genetically modified food: diplomacy, trade and law. London: Palgrave, pp. 118–137.

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Abstract

The US and EU have developed quite different frameworks for regulating agbiotech, but these were potentially compatible with transatlantic trade in GM products. How, then, did a trade conflict arise? This chapter challenges explanations centring on transatlantic regulatory divergence. Rather, the US-EU agbiotech conflict arose from contending transatlantic agendas, which have operated within and across the two jurisdictions. The analysis here extends insights from other academic accounts (Bernauer, 2003; Jasanoff, 2005; Toke, 2004; Isaac, 2002), while also disagreeing with some accounts. A transatlantic trade-liberalisation agenda set the context in which European protest could frame agbiotech as a dual threat of 'globalisation' and unknown risks. Greater controversy led to regulatory blockages and a trade conflict, which policy actors diagnosed in ways convenient for their own agendas. Promoting agbiotech, some politicians warned that EU regulatory delays or more stringent rules would be found illegal at the WTO. But this strategy backfired; instead it provided a vulnerable target for attack by 'anti-globalisation' activists. Citing US threats of a WTO case, opponents sought to delegitimise pro-agbiotech policies as a surrender to political and commercial pressures. From the late 1990s onwards, some European policymakers articulated a new problem ? how 'to restore public and market confidence' ? as an imperative for institutional reform. This problem-diagnosis helped to bypass earlier disagreements about the 'scientific' basis of regulatory criteria, thus facilitating more precautionary approaches to risk assessment and GM labelling. These changes accommodated key aspects of the 'consumer rights' agenda, thus potentially establishing a stronger basis to legitimise EU decisions.

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