Cows, corn, and communication

How the discourse around GMOs impacted legislation in the EU and the USA

Authored by: Annka Liepold

Routledge Handbook of Ecocriticism and Environmental Communication

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138053137
eBook ISBN: 9781315167343
Adobe ISBN:


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Looking at the discourse around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the US and the EU, this chapter exemplifies the constitutive power of environmental communication. The focus here is to identify the key factors driving the respective handling of GMOs and the underlying principles in the risk discourse: substantial equivalence (US) vs. precautionary principle (EU). Environmental groups instrumentalized the fear among European consumers after the outbreak of “mad cow disease” to launch a stark anti-GMO campaign based on the fear of unknown effects of GMOs on human health. The anti-GMO movement in the US never gained as much momentum; it was sparked by a scientific debate on the possibly negative effect of GM corn on the monarch butterfly population. The argument in this chapter is that these differences in environmental communication help explain how one breeding technique has led to such different transatlantic legal statuses. Whereas GMOs have become the norm in the US and do not need to be labeled, almost no GMOs are grown in the EU and labeling is strictly regulated.

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