Meanings of genetically modified food and policy change and persistence: The cases of France, Japan and the United States
This study examines the processes through which different policy frameworks toward genetically modified (GM) food developed in France, Japan and the United States from the 1970s to 2004. In particular, I investigate (1) how different meanings of GM food emerged in each country's policy debates, public discourses and social practices, and (2) what the relationships between these meanings and policy developments are. The approach is based on the observation that distinct national policy frameworks have come to define GM food very differently and attach different connotations, while GM food has taken on widely different meanings in each country's public discourses and social practices.
Until the late 1990s, the three countries had all liberally regulated GM food and promoted agricultural biotechnology as a promising new field. However, since then, France shifted from being one of Europe's most active supporters of agricultural biotechnology to being its most cautious opponent, influencing the European Union's current restrictive policy. Similarly, Japanese policy turned more cautious, albeit less restrictive than that of the EU or France. Meanwhile, U.S. policy remained favorable to the development and commercialization of GM food. It does not consider the use of genetic modification as a basis for a distinct and coherent regulatory category, and regulates GM food mostly according to pre-existing policy framework.
Through qualitative analysis of a diverse set of data, including media coverage, organizational documents, and in-depth interviews, the study argues that meanings of GM food and GM food policy interacted with and co-evolved with each other. It operationalizes meanings as (1) symbolic boundaries around GM food; (2) framing of the issue of GM food; and (3) association between GM food and other issues. In each case, the earlier policy definition, combined with political factors, a nationally distinct set of cultural resources and contingent historical events, shaped the development of the meanings of GM food. Such meanings, in turn, served as resources or constraints in politics and policy processes of GM food. By analyzing the meanings of GM food both as constructed and constitutive, the study addresses how political and cultural factors interact with and mutually constitute each other.
0700: Social structure