Renewed efforts by the U.S. and EU to develop a free trade agreement for the two economies require addressing some intractable agricultural issues.  The cultivation and use of biotech crops is one of them.  As U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a speech at the London School of Economics on U.S.-EU trade policy, “if food and agricultural imports are blocked by health- or safety-related measures, then those measures must be supported by sound science and risk assessment.”

While the political opposition to biotech crops in the EU is well entrenched, analysis reported in Social Stigma and Consumer Benefits: Trade-offs in Adoption of Genetically Modified Foods by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand offers hope that consumers in the EU understand the tradeoffs involved.  The researchers set up fruit stands in New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany and offered ‘certified organic’, ‘low residue, local designation’ and ’100 percent spray free, genetically modified’ fruit (actually all the fruit was from the same source and of the same quality and no GM varieties of common fruits are available).  Prices were varied at the average market price, 15 percent above and 15 percent below.  Customers also filled out questionnaires to compare ‘stated preferences’ with ‘revealed preferences’ from actual purchases.

The researchers found a marked preference for the organic option when all three options were offered at the market price.  Substantial price sensitivity for the GM option was shown when there was a 15 percent premium price for organic and a 15 percent discount for the GM fruit.  Except for Belgium were imported grapes were used, the GM market share was 30-60 percent at the lower price.  In open ended comments, the ‘spray free’ designation seemed to be the key factor in the purchasing decision.  Consumers will consider buying GM products if there is a clear consumer benefit in addition to price and the benefit is communicated effectively.

(For more, see: Biotech crops continue to yield tremendous benefits)

Benefits of biotech crops that consumers can most easily grasp are environmental ones associated with changes in insecticide use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from minimum tillage practices.  Estimates of these benefits are provided for 2010 and accumulative for 1996-2010 in GM Crops: Global Socio-economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2010 by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot of PG Economics Ltd, UK.  Benefits of pesticide reductions are measured by the reduction in the amount of active ingredients in insecticides used and the annual Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ), a measurement developed by Cornell University that integrates the various environmental impacts of individual pesticides into a single ‘field value per hectare’.  The EIQ is multiplied by the amount of active ingredient used per hectare to produce a field EIQ value.

(For more, see: Europe watches GM crops trials dwindle)