What a difference an ocean makes

It’s always amazed me how different Europeans are from North Americans.

OK, sure, it only makes sense that there would be some differences — our two cultures did develop in a different historical context and even in vastly different physical landscapes.

But it’s the approach that Europeans take to risk that can sometimes be a bit of a head scratcher.

Take BSE, for example. When that livestock disease turned into a human health threat 25 years ago, Europeans responded by turning away from beef.

When North America had its own BSE scare a few years later, consumers here responded by eating more beef to support beleaguered producers. Go figure.

The same goes for Europe’s wariness toward such agricultural technologies as genetic modification and pesticides. North Americans have for the most part bought into the scientific argument that these are safe to use, but not so much across the Atlantic, where a deep distrust continues to exist. This distrust has now been transferred to the next generation of plant breeding technology — gene editing.

Growth hormones in the livestock industry are another example. Most North Americans have no trouble eating meat from animals that were fed additives to help them grow quicker. In Europe, it seems, they would rather eat cardboard than a nutritious product that science has deemed to be safe.

And now the European Union has announced a plan to cut agricultural pesticide use in half over the next 10 years and greatly increase organic farming.

These initiatives are similar to what the Green party here at home included in its agricultural platform during the last federal election. Those promises weren’t taken very seriously by many in the farming community. I mean, what would agriculture in this country look like if the Green party got its way?

Well, the EU has decided it wants to find out. This could be an interesting social experiment, although many players in Canada’s agriculture sector are pretty sure they already know the answer.

I have been watching this story unfold ever since genetically modified crops were first developed and then accepted in North America and rejected in Europe.

At one time it seemed as if North America would have to change if it wanted to keep exporting, and then it looked like Europe would have to change if it wanted to keep eating.

The standoff, it appears, continues.

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