SOC: Syliva Poggioli on Euro-Anti-GM

Date: Sun Jun 25 2000 - 09:44:41 MDT

Here's a transcript of a fascinating interview with the ubiquitous Ms.
Poggioli about Eurpean attitudes toward genetically modified foods.


                               June 4, 2000, Sunday

LENGTH: 911 words





    LIANE HANSEN, host:

    Few issues have raised grassroots passion in Europe as much as what is
  as genetically modified food. Much to the annoyance of American
  the European Union requires labelling on any food with more than 1 percent
  genetically modified ingredients. There are strong differences in
the ways that
  Americans and Europeans regard food, and that's the topic in our continuing
  conversations about Europe with NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Today, she
joins us from
  Rome. Hi, Sylvia.

    SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

    Hi, Liane.

    HANSEN: This is a very intense food fight that's going on. I mean, last
  week, you had environmentalists going mano a mano with the police in
Genoa at a
  biotechnology conference. And we've heard about McDonald's in France being
  trashed. This is very serious, isn't it?

    POGGIOLI: This is no joke. You know, the food issue has become kind of a
  rallying cry across Europe. The British press calls genetically modified
  or GM food, 'Frankenfood' or mutant food. I won't even tell you
what the French
  and the Italian press say about American companies trying to tell
Europeans what
  to eat. You know, really seriously, European rejection of what--these are
  called GM crops, it's rooted in food scares, such as the mad cow disease in
  Britain and the dioxin-tainted chickens in Belgium.

    But there are other factors that have turned this into a kind of, you
  battle of ideology and culture. Deep down, Europeans do not share
  trust in science and technology. Now you often hear Americans accusing
  Europeans of being hypochondriac about technological progress in the food
  industry, and for their part, the Europeans see Americans as
manipulating food.
  They kind of see them as the sorcerer's apprentice or, you know, the
witches in
  "Macbeth" sort of cackling over their boiling cauldron.

    HANSEN: I'm afraid this doesn't sound very rational at all. This
sounds very
  over the top.

    POGGIOLI: The tone has gotten very strident at times, and even sounds
like a
  religious war. But we got to remember that food is really a crucial
element for
  Europeans in their cultural and national identity. Eating is a really
  sit-down ritual here. You're not going to see Europeans eating on the
  on the go, at their work desks or out of packages and boxes. Those American,
  quintessentially American concepts, of hyperconvenience foods and dashboard
  dining are heretical over here. Don't forget, Europeans have a different
  relationship with nature. It's closer to them. It's less menacing for
  Europeans than for Americans, who, you know, had to conquer the
frontier. Farms
  are still mainly family run. They eat the same recipes that their parents,
  their grandparents and great-grandparents ate. So you've got this sense of
  continuity. It's very strong.

    In Italy, for instance, you've got olive trees that are several
hundred years
  old. They're still producing olives. So this connection between the food
  the land that produces it, it's so strong that some of the best and most
  celebrated restaurants are not in cities, but in small, off the beaten track
  villages in rural areas.

    HANSEN: But is this just in Italy, which is known for the quality of its
  food, or France, say, which is also known for the quality of its
food? Or is it
  widespread throughout Europe?

    POGGIOLI: It's pretty widespread. For instance, the anti-genetically
  modified movement is very strong in Britain, which is definitely not known
  its great cuisine. Supermarkets in Britain are said to be the institution
  that's most trusted by Brits, so when the supermarkets last year competed in
  declaring themselves GM-free, the agribusinesses had definitely lost
the battle
  of the aisles. So it's not surprising that according to a European
  poll, Europeans are more likely than Americans--and I quote from what they
  said--"to view agricultural biotechnology as a threat to the moral order and
  more likely to associate biotech foods with menacing images of adulteration,
  infection and monsters."

    HANSEN: Is this all about science, though, or is it more culture? It
  very just anti-American.

    POGGIOLI: There's a lot of anti-Americanism. That feeling has
been latent in
  the European psyche for a long time. And now as the average European sort
  you know, looks around, sees all this Americanization, the dominance
of American
  movies, of music, the Internet, their baseball caps everywhere, and now
  fast-food outlets, there's a sense of creeping American colonialism. And
  strengthening what the Europeans now call American culinary imperialism.
And I
  think you can recognize that's the language of the old European left. It's
  fascinating to see how the old, you know, '68 generation of lefties and
  political activists has transformed itself in middle age into food
  And they've dived into the culinary trenches of what they see as the last
  of battlefield against American cultural encroachment.

    And the most important of these trenches is the Slow Food Movement. You've
  probably heard about it. There's several chapters in the United States.
  it was founded by Italian leftists as a means to protect local culinary
  patrimonies and endangered recipes. The slow food militants, they call
  themselves the Gastronomic left(ph), or the Greenpeace of Gastronomy. And
  of their slogans is, 'Reject Sheep,' which what they mean there is
  food. They say material and moral pleasures are not free. The century of
  egalitarian utopias has been buried forever under the well-stocked table.

    HANSEN: My. Well, you know, a lot of Americans are coming to Europe this
  summer. You know, many of them coming to Rome. What should they expect?

    POGGIOLI: Well, I think this is really, Liane, the place to issue a formal
  warning to Americans coming to Europe. I've seen many Americans at Italian
  restaurants, after taking a bite from a regular mixed salad, I've heard them
  exclaim in shock, 'This tomato is too intense.' So beware, everybody,
  tomatoes can be a stimulant for American tastebuds.

    HANSEN: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. She'll be joining us frequently to
  talk about her Europe. Thanks a lot, Sylvia.

    POGGIOLI: Thank you, Liane.

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