As can be seen in most of the articles in this special issue of Futuribles on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), there is a marked difference in approach between Europe and the USA with regard to GMOs. What does this difference consist in? What is its origin? Is it set to last? In this article, Bernard Chevassus-au-Louis examines the ins and outs of this “transatlantic divorce”.
He outlines various factors, for example, that may explain the difference in the perception and use of GM plants between the American continent and Europe, focusing mainly on the contrast between the USA and France. He begins by analysing attitudes towards the highly intensive agricultural model that has developed in the two countries since the war, as well as towards the companies involved in supplying seed. He then describes the modes of intellectual protection of plant material established in the 20th century, stressing particularly the divergence between the use and non-use of patents. Lastly, drawing on a distinction between expert and lay assessments of risk, he studies the attitude of citizens towards such risk analyses. Here again, he demonstrates a European specificity, linked, among other things, to the many health scares that studded the latter years of the 20th century and effectively led to the citizenry becoming sceptical of expert assessments. Bernard Chevassus-au-Louis concludes by musing on how these divergences may develop and on the appropriateness of continuing to apply health and environmental risk assessments only to GMOs.