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date: 25 July 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Regulatory approaches and public responses to food made with recombinant DNA technology—genetically modified (GM) food—exhibit striking national differences. The safety concerns regarding GM food have been cautiously addressed and alarmed and repelled many consumers in France and Japan, but they have not garnered the same kind of policy response or public attention in the United States, where GM food has been widely produced and consumed. This chapter examines how such differences developed since the late 1990s, particularly by situating the politicization and institutionalization of food safety in the development of “GM food” as a cultural category in each country. We highlight three important dynamics. First, how food safety became politicized (e.g., the sequences, timing, actors who mobilized the issue) differed widely across cases. Second, other aspects of GM food became intertwined with the politics of food safety. We cannot really understand the latter in isolation from the politicization of such aspects as environmental risks. Third, the meaning of GM food itself in policy and public discourse—its salience and definition—mattered to divergence of national approaches to food safety. A comparison of three cases illustrates how divergent patterns of food safety regulation cannot be reduced to political conflicts, cultural norms, scientific debates, or historical events only. Different configurations of these factors shaped shared understandings of GM food as a category, which, in turn, affected the politics of food safety.

Keywords: GMO, genetically modified food, food safety, national culture, food policy, France, Japan, the United States

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