Edited by Stuart J. Smyth, Peter W.B. Phillips and David Castle
Chapter 11: European Union policy conflicts over agbiotech: ecological modernization perspectives and critiques
In the early 1990s agricultural biotechnology was being promoted as a symbol of European progress by all EU institutions, especially the European Commission. According to proponents, agbiotech provides a clean technology for enhancing ecoefficient agro-production, while also addressing the agrochemical problems of industrial agriculture. By the late 1990s, however, ‘GM food’ became negatively associated with factory farming, its hazards and unsustainable agriculture. GM products have generally faced commercial and/or regulatory blockages to market access in Europe. Commercial use has been largely limited to animal feed from soya imports and from Bt insecticidal maize cultivation in Spain (at least until 2013). This article discusses four key questions: ● How did the EU promote agbiotech as an eco-efficient innovation? ● What societal and policy conflicts arose? ● Despite support from EU institutions, why did agbiotech encounter such great obstacles? ● How does this case signal future difficulties of claims for eco-efficiency solutions? To answer those questions, this chapter draws on perspectives from ecological modernization (EM), whose relevance to EU policy is explained in the next section. Subsequent sections analyse the agbiotech case through the following sequence: early EU promotion of agbiotech; the 1990s agbiotech controversy; and policy changes in response. The conclusion summarizes the relevance of EM for explaining the EU-wide conflict. The text says ‘biotech/biotechnological’ wherever policy frameworks refer to an overall technology; otherwise it refers to ‘agbiotech’ for this specific sector.
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