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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: February 2010

20 - Genetically modified foods, trade, and developing countries

Summary

Introduction

The current debate about the use of genetic engineering in agricultural production reveals substantial differences in perception of the risks and benefits associated with this new biotechnology. Farmers in North America and a few large developing countries such as Argentina, Mexico, and China are rapidly adopting the new genetically modified (GM) crop varieties as they become available, and citizens in these countries are generally accepting this development. Growing GM crop varieties provides farmers with a range of agronomic benefits, mainly in terms of lower input requirements and hence lower costs to consumers. However, in other parts of the world, especially Western Europe, people are concerned about the environmental impact of widespread cultivation of GM crops and the safety of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In response to the strong consumer reaction against GM foods in Western Europe, and to a certain extent also in Japan, separate production systems for GM and non-GM crops are emerging in the maize and soybean sectors. To the extent that GM-critical consumers are willing to pay a price premium for non-GM varieties there may be a viable market for these products alongside the new GM varieties.

Developing countries – regardless of whether they are exporters or importers of agricultural crops – will be affected by changing consumer attitudes toward genetic modification in the developed world. Some developing countries are highly dependent on exporting particular primary agricultural products to GM-critical regions.

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