December 1999, as the WTO (World Trade Organization) met in Seattle, Washington, the public cried out against their “bias policies.” The first American gathering of the WTO sparked strong Anti-globalization sentiments among several groups, causing a public uproar. Swarms of protestors filled the streets, their angry voices filling the air with rants such as “Hey, hey, ho, ho, GMOs have got to go!” A small-scale war broke out between the local authorities and protestors as they rallied in the streets, some peaceful, others wreaking havoc. The battle seemed to focus on big business and the economics of trade. So how does the scientific development of GMOs, genetically modified organisms, come into this largely commercial picture? The connection between this issue and the WTO lays in the purpose of the WTO itself and the issues surrounding it.
The Geneva based World Trade Organization was created in 1995. It is a global alliance of 135 governments that regulate international trade in an ever-expanding global economy. It aims to ease trade between its members, making sure trade disputes are resolved efficiently. The body supports free trade and attempts to eradicate tariff barriers while making certain that its members all enjoy the same trading rights. In order to ensure this, it establishes binding trading rules between countries and reduces subsidies in order to make trade more competitive. The WTO is both lawmaker and enforcer, making sure that trade between its members flows smoothly. One example of this is the recent overruling of the European ban on U.S. hormone-treated beef. Such regulation though has brought about protests from Environmentalists and Labor Unions. Environmental issues have been brought up and debated; the majority of them have been sold out to economical concerns. They refuse to allow the WTO to overrule regulations created to protect public health or the environment. Such as the overturning of the U.S. restrictions on shrimp caught with nets that endanger sea turtles. Labor Unions also join the throng of protests, with issues of concern over labor policies. The U.S. pushes to enforce labor standards, especially in developing countries, fearing the exploitation of cheap labor (i.e. sweat shops). However, it is obvious that what is good for one is not always what is in the best interests of others. Developing countries fear that minimum standard on labor will curb their ability to compete in the global economy; low labor cost is one of the very few cards they have to play. In the environmental ring, the Europeans concerns over hormone-treated beef were overturned by the WTO in favor of free trade. The U.S. believed the campaign was in actuality an attempt to protect the technologically disadvantaged European farmers. The main concerns behind Anti—WTO sentiments are that the WTO makes its decisions, which affect all of society, on a solely commercial basis. While the WTO emphasizes that the current global prosperity can be maintained through standardized rules enforced by a universal authority.
The relatively current debate over U.S. hormone treated beef brings to light an issue sure to become gradually more controversial as new developments are made. Here lies the connection between GMOs and trade; more specifically the main controversy revolves around food GMOs. Genetically modified foods are those made with components whose seeds were modified for several characteristics. Some plants are made resistant to pesticides; some are made larger, some healthier. These “Frakenfoods” are constructed by altering the genetic compositions of plants then sowing the seeds to see the expected results. The modified genes will only be expressed in the next generation, through the “offspring”. Concerns over the side effects from this practice seemed non-existent until the recent uproar in Europe over the import of hormone-treated beef. An estimated half of all soybeans, one third of corn crops, and substantial quantities of potato crops are grown from genetically modified seeds. Also, to date, genetically modified foods have not been associated with any health hazards. In fact scientists found the some GMs could hold health benefits, such as additional nutrients. However, public fears have been gradually growing and to ignore them would be presumptuous on the part of manufacturers. There are already a few ill effects of GM crops, such as the discovery that pollen from GM corn can kill the butterfly’s caterpillars. Companies are putting forth