May 13, 2015

ETIATalks review: TTIP and GMOs: Resource Revolution or Unnecessary Evil?

The third panel discussion of this year’s ETIAtalks series took place on April 30th in the Festsaal of the Diplomatic Academy. Our speakers for this event were Johann Marihart (Chairman of the Management Board and Chief Executive Officer of AGRANA), Irmi Salzer (Organic farmer, former policy officer at Via Campesina, and anti-TTIP activist), Arnaud Petit (European farmers’ and agri-cooperatives’ lobbyist working with Copa-Cogeca) and our moderator Franz Sinabell (Researcher at ’Österreichisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung’ and lecturer at BOKU).

The lively talk of our expert panel was once more focused on a key issue of today’s sustainable development in the EU: the possible influx of GM products with a concluded TTIP agreement. According to the moderator of our panel, the bilateral trade agreement TTIP is widely understood as a second-best step to trade liberalization. Benefits include more variety and lower prices for consumers as well as access to a 300 million-strong market for EU producers. However, some farmers will be harmed and will have to shift to reach a new equilibrium. GMOs are widely used in many countries to increase productivity and lessen the input of environmentally harmful chemicals. Many Europeans are concerned about this technology, and while member states will be allowed to regulate GMOs, this will be the decision of courts, not policy-makers.

These rather positive aspects encountered some dissent on the panel, pointing towards the strong opposition of small farmers to the WTO agreements, dominated by industrialized nations and against rural communities. If TTIP passes, environmental standards, health standards, and workers rights could deteriorate, and GMOs could spread. It remains unsure whether universally increased welfare through trade is achievable, when looking at the example of African countries without the capacity to feed their population, while they produce only for export. Only big companies both in the US and the EU may benefit at the cost of sustainable agriculture.

GMOs in the food sector are no novelty to the EU, which imports soybeans that are mainly genetically modified. However, before extending the admission to more products, the Commission is now conducting a risk assessment for the import of meat. Further, introducing new technology is useful in the starch and grape seed oil industry, for example for livestock. Trade agreements require a decision by the European Parliament. The EU will have to change certain laws, but the MEPs, representatives of various parties and member states, will not vote on a radically liberal inclusion of GMOs into our markets. Also the US will not accept to be forced to change laws that are politically sensitive.

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