Global Resistance Against Genetically Modified Organisms: The Cases of the European Union and Japan

Since the mid-1990s, a global political battle has unfolded around one of the most promising industries of the future: biotechnology. While transgenic technology showed great promise and became widely adopted in North America, it also became the target of a global resistance movement including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), key states, and international organizations. The battle plays out along several dimensions-modern technology and human progress, global trade, environmental protection, health, food security, development, democratic deficit, and cultural identity-making it one of the fault lines in globalization. State policy with respect to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) includes both national regulations and support for global standards in international negotiations such as the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Domestic and international regulatory frameworks of countries with respect to GMOs, however, are not always coherent.

Professor Tiberghien's proposed research program for the next three years will focus on the specific roles played by the European Union (EU) and Japan in the competition for global GMO governance. Both of them have taken strict regulatory approaches that undermine their future claims to leadership in this rising technology field. At the same time, the actions of the EU and Japan have diverged at the international level: in contrast to the EU's role as an international regulatory advocate, Japan has appeared incoherent by disconnecting its national approach from its international actions. The research aims at developing a model on the politics of state resistance to globalization at the domestic and international levels. While an emergent literature has focused on EU biotechnology regulations and, to a lesser extent, on international negotiations about GMOs, no study has undertaken a multi-level cross-regional comparative analysis. In particular, GMO politics in Japan have yet to be analyzed.

This research program involves process-tracing of domestic regulations on GMO production and labeling (two in Japan and four in the EU) on the one hand and the role played by Japan and the EU in the Cartagena negotiations and at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the other. In addition, this research will use the comparative method to contrast political processes and outcomes in Japan and the EU. The framework developed in this study will offer insights for the study of GMO policy in other countries, such as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, China, and India. It will also shed light on other areas of contestations over global standards.

Since two-level comparative study is novel in the field of GMO regulations and resistance to globalization, there will be considerable interest in its results among scholars of international political economy, comparative political economy, Japanese politics, and EU policy-making. The study is also likely to spark significant interest among scholars of public policy and environment in Canada and the US, as well as among policy practitioners in government and nongovernmental organizations.

This project is funded by a $96,700 grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Yves Tiberghien



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