When the first biotech crop genetic events hit the U.S. market in 1996, some European countries were in the midst of food scares, including outbreaks of e.coli, listeria and salmonella, Ukraine-sourced sunflower oil contamination, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (Mad Cow disease) in the United Kingdom. Unfamiliar with biotechnology and its potential benefits, the public feared this new technology and quickly coined the term “GMO” for food containing biotech ingredients. Many Europeans have held negative opinions ever since, despite attempts by the United Soybean Board (USB) and other soy industry groups to encourage understanding there.
In one of the most recent attempts, soybean farmers from the United States and their counterparts from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, united under the International Soy Growers Alliance (ISGA), visited with members of the European Union (EU) food and feed chain and representatives of the EU government to discuss the importance of biotechnology.
“The EU’s attitude in the past has been, if you can’t deliver what we need, we’ll get it from South America,” says Bob Metz, USB director and a soybean farmer from South Dakota. “But now, the United States and South American soy-exporting countries agree that biotechnology is the future, and that it mitigates risk in feeding the rest of the world.” In addition, North American farmers and their South American counterparts together produce 90 percent of the world’s soybean exports, so choices outside of those countries are limited.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service recently released the Global Agricultural Information Network report that found, acceptance of biotechnology varies among the 27 countries in the European Union. Despite differences, support is growing as the 2010 Eurobarometer survey found 53 percent of Europeans in favor of biotechnology, a slight increase from the 2005 Eurobarometer of 52 percent in favor.