Sustainable Agriculture The United States versus the European Union: Issues and Attitudes

Sustainable Agriculture The United States versus the European Union: Issues and Attitudes

Carson H. Varner (Illinois State University, USA) and Katrin C. Varner (Illinois State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jsesd.2010100103
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This paper examines developing issues and attitudes that unite and divide the United States and the European Union as the discussion and regulation of agriculture evolves. While some terms, such as “organic,” are defined in law in both the United States and European Union, the increasingly used “sustainability” is an evolving concept. The main sustainability issue is how to provide food and fiber for a rapidly growing world population. In this context, the role of biotechnology is questioned. Americans tend to favor what are sometimes called genetically modified crops, while Europeans remain cautious. Europeans lean more toward organic farming, while Americans assert that much of the world will starve if organic methods are required. This paper reviews the directions that the discussion of these issues is taking and will show areas of agreement and where the two sides diverge.
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Sustainability In The European Union

The seeds of European unity came out of the results of World War II. Some motives for greater unification were to help prevent another world war beginning on European soil, to have the strength to resist communism, and to compete successfully with the United States.

Several treaties were made in the early 1950s, but the Treaty of Rome in 1957 is seen as the beginning of the modern EU. It was a Europe of six countries, including Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The UK, with its special relationship to the US, was notably absent in this initial union. Today, the EU has expanded in all directions and is composed of 27 nations. Norway, keeping all their fish for themselves (not to mention their oil!), and Switzerland, with all of that money in secret accounts, are the notable holdouts.

Despite some similarities, the European Union is not the United States of Europe. The US has a constitution to create “a more perfect union.” The Europeans, however, recently voted against a proposed constitution. The EU is, more like NAFTA, an international treaty. It is, however, more far-reaching and comprehensive than NAFTA, which just creates a free trade area. Free movement of labor and services, a common currency in much of the territory, and a far greater harmonization of law and regulation make the EU treaty the most successful in history. Yet each nation could, as the English have from time to time threatened, assert their sovereignty and leave the union.

Under the treaty, institutions are created that are analogous to national institutions. There is the Council, the Commission, the Assembly, the Court, and now a Central Bank. The first three are the most important in understanding sustainability. The name “Council” is a bit deceptive, but it is the legislature, which is made up of representatives of the constituent governments. Any change in law they vote on is actually a change in the international treaty, which in turn must be ratified by the 27 nations individually. The Commission is the executive, which drafts regulations under the treaty, makes recommendations, and makes initial decisions in individual cases. Then the Court is the final arbiter of the treaty, and thus of EU law. The Assembly has regulatory powers, but has no more real law-making authority than, say, the United Nations General Assembly.

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