Hungarian Conservatives Reject GMOs

Hungary has constitutionally banned genetically engineered plants from its agricultural sector and has recently amended its Act on Biotechnology to strengthen the government’s ability to exclude GMOs. In 2011, non-transparent enforcement of new seed testing rules resulted in the destruction of corn fields and large fines for seed companies.  To those of us with interest in biotech acceptance Hungary is an interesting example of a particular sort of biotech regulation.

Hungary is a relatively small country (population about 10 Million) with a per capita income about two-thirds that of the EU-25 average.  Much of Hungary is a broad plain drained by the Danube and Tisza rivers.   Given that much of this plain is arable, it has a rich agricultural history, although the country was industrialized in the Soviet communist era.  It is a large corn producer with economically important corn exports to other parts of Europe.  It is a major European producer of corn seed.  In the Soviet era it was a major corn seed exporter to the Soviet Block and to Russia.  It remains a seed exporter with exports to the Balkan nations as well as the rest of Europe.  Corn would be the most likely crop for the use of GE in the field, if it were not forbidden in Hungary. In the early years of Hungarian rejection of GM corn, preservation of access of Hungary to non- GM corn markets in Europe was an important consideration. 

The eastern part of the country is relatively dry, which makes for conditions where sunflower is important and makes Hungary a major sunflower seed producer as well.  The nation has a special place in the European sunflower seed business.

The drought and stress makes Hungarian growing conditions very similar to those of western Iowa and South Dakota. This leads to a close relationship between the seed companies of Hungary and the U.S. The majority of the corn produced Hungary comes from genetics supplied and developed by American companies. Syngenta is also a major player.  These same companies form the backbone of the Hungarian corn industry. They have important investments in seed processing facilities and long-term relationships with local and farmer organizations to grow seed corn. The productivity of the germplasm provided by these companies is not questioned, but there has always been uneasiness with dependence on foreign business even before the end of communist rule in 1989.

Pioneer was the first major multinational involved in Hungary. Pioneer had a left political orientation, associated with the Wallace Family, which gave it an inclination to form business relationship in the Soviet Union and its Satellite countries in Central Europe.  In 1959 Khrushchev made a notable visit to the Garst Farm in Coon Rapids Iowa.  Garst Seed Company was a Pioneer licensee at the time. It eventually became independent and then a part of Syngenta via ICI.  DEKALB and Syngenta came to Hungary later in the 1980s and 1990s respectively.  Monsanto became involved in Hungary when they purchased DEKALB in the late 1990s.  At the time DEKALB had already been involved in Hungary for almost 15 years in both corn and sunflower.

In important parts of Hungarian society there is both a deep-seated social distrust of biotech crops and a belief that Hungarian farmers profit from being a leading ‘GMO-free’ supplier of food and feed to European markets.  Hungary is somewhat unusual in that this distrust is associated with the right side of the political spectrum. 

The Hungarian Civic Alliance (Magyar Polgári Szövetség) is universally known as Fidesz . The Fidesz party is conservative in the sense of being nationalist and a supporter of strong national governments with cultural demands associated with language, ethnicity and religion, in this case Hungarian language, Magyar ethnicity and Roman Catholic religion.

Hungary has a very long term tradition of resistance to universalist outsiders:  Ottoman Turks, Habsburg Monarchists, the Nazis, the Soviets, and then the EU.  Because Hungary is mostly a broad plain it is difficult to defend when the armies of empire move against it. A national spirit has been part of the Hungarian defense for centuries.

In spite of their rejection of foreign big government, Hungarians expect government solutions: national solutions.  If there is a big problem Hungarians have a tendency to expect government to solve it.  This expectation has led to major shifts in political leadership in response to crises since the end of Communist rule in 1989.

There is a division in the Hungarian environmental movement between the land protection and conservation movement, which traces back to the Romantic Movement and the attachment of traditional aristocrats to the land on one hand, and to the postmodern environmental movement which traces back to dissatisfaction with the Soviet socialist universalism on the other.  The Soviet communists elevated technological productivity as the basis for a classless society, at the same time that it retained its rejection of capitalist liberalism. The postmodern environmentalists reject the communist culture of industrial progress.   

This division between the traditionalist and post-modern environmentalists is global.  Traditionalist environmental movement is most prevalent in Germany, but influences the environmental movements and government policies of the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia.  It is characterized by conservationism and preservationalism. It is associated with nationalism and the protection of local industry against foreign competition.  The economic tendencies can be described as corporatist or statist, in which the government serves as arbiter between different segments of the nation in analogy with the way that the mind controls the organs of the body (corps, thus corporatism).  Traditionally these environmental movements have focused on preservation of land and landscapes.  In Europe the focus was more on agricultural land than wilderness (as in the US).  National elites, including national economic elites, may be accepted as long as they accept the leadership of the government as coordinator.  Local environmental protests tend to be NYMBY, not in my back yard.

Tradition is important to these conservative environmentalists. One of the important traditions in Hungary is a rural tradition including the cowboys of the Puszta, the eastern Hungarian plain. 
These conservative segments of societies and the parties which represent them oppose to the power of the EU, especially the Commission the EU administrative body, the body which has accepted the scientific regulation of GMOs and the release of some GMOs for use in Agriculture when prodded by the GMO using countries.  The Fidesz political party has represented this conservative environmentalism in Hungarian political life for the last 20 years.

In many parts of the world we are more accustomed to the other of the two kinds of environmentalism.  Postmodern environmentalism originated with disappointed with “actually existing” pre1990 socialism or communism.  It rejected the industrial or “productivist” model of agricultural production which is shared by industrial capitalism and Soviet Communism.  The general tendency can be described as social anarchism, resistance to both big government and big industry combined with support for local economic activity based on social and moral interaction rather than on market exchange.   The movement rejected capitalist industrialism and conventional, representative democracy. Representative democracy was characterized as corrupted by its association with capitalism.  In the U.S. this movement was associated with the New Left and the counter-culture. Those movements created a public space for the development of new social movements, of which postmodern environmentalism was one, and provided radical tactical methodology. This kind of position is characterized as support for participatory or grass roots democracy. 

This side of environment focuses on individual safety concerns of industrial products rather than the loss of traditional cultural traditions.  They are more inclined to be local preservationist rather than national preservationists.   Anti -capitalism contributes to the movement’s momentum even when risk proves to be imaginary.  GMOs have provided the movement with an important symbol for the excessive use of industrial technology.  The activists in this side of the environmental movement tend to be highly educated.  The Green movement represents this side of the environment movement and Greenpeace provides a specific example of an NGO organization within it.  The leaders of the movement deal in culture and symbols. They are differentiated from the old left which was concerned with the material interests of the working class, a working class those whose word involves the manipulation of material things.

This side of the environmental movement has a love/hate relationship with institutionalization. They are committed to participation by doctrine.  Institutionalization may advance the causes in which the movement is involved, but interferes with the grassroots democracy to which the Green movement is committed.  Their radicalism is self-limiting. 

When we look at the history of the resistance to GMOs institutionalization means delegating authority to government institutions. But government institutions find it easiest in the long run to base their decisions on objective scientific evidence. This in turn puts them into conflict with local movements which are in touch with spiritual and romantic conceptions of natural.     
In the international environmental movement there is a current which is more similar to the traditionalist and nationalist environmentalism.  The environmental justice movement reacts to class and race divisions.  They react to the imposition of unwanted land upon the poor and the dominance of the children of the European elites in the postmodern environmental movement.  The nationalists of a small nation like Hungary can think of their community in the same way that a minority group thinks of their community when an incinerator is to be built where they do not want it.  In these situations environmental issues can be associated with conflicts associated the distribution resources and of social, economic, and political power.  Protests of small communities may not appear to be environmental movements, but nationalism and support for national government intervention in the economy may be present. 

In Europe in the 1990s both traditionalist environmentalism and postmodern environmentalism converged to support the obvious weakness of EU food safety systems in the wake major food associated health scares: Chernobyl, mad cow, dioxin, asbestos, HIV, Etc.  The European Food Safety Authority was set up to deal with food risks. The introduction of GMOs occurred in the middle of concern for these real risks.  It turns out that the current authority of the EFSA is threatened by movements asserting the importance of GM risks that turned out not to be supported by science.

Fidesz is involved in Hungary’s major racial tension.  As supporters of traditional Magyar culture, for some on the left they are failing to address the needs of a disadvantaged Roma (or Gypsy) minority and can be portrayed as discriminating against the Roma.  From the point of view of Fidesz the Roma community has failed to assimilate cultural values which would allow them to succeed in Hungarian society.   This is a perennial problem for cultural conservatives. 

A nationalist program which is associated with the rejection of gypsies and international biotech capitalists suggests vague similarities to the Nazi program which rejected gypsies and international Jewish bankers, but too much should not be made of the comparison.  The Fidesz party is conservative, not radical or racist.  The comparison does suggest the importance of GMOs and their creators as symbols of cultural identity which the Fidesz hopes to use to justify and represent their national leadership.

In telling this story, the distinction between traditionalist conservatism and free market liberalism is very important. The Fidesz party is socially conservative and supports government intervention in business to protect consumers and the national identity.  The party is not conservative in the current U.S. sense of standing for open markets and fee flow of investment money.

Historical Background for the conflict between GMOs and conservative traditions in Hungary

Today’s Hungary is the limited remainder of a broad medieval kingdom.  At times it included parts of Slovakia, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Romania.  Toward the end of the first millennium the Magyar people invaded Europe from central Asia. They were combat oriented people organized into seven tribes.  The leading tribe, the Megyeri supplied the ruling Árpád dynasty. In the year 1000 Prince Istvan (Steven) of the Árpád was baptized a Christian and became king providing Hungary with a Roman Catholic religious tradition as well as a Magyar aristocracy.  He converted the nation to Christianity and was canonized as St. Stephan, Hungary’s patron saint. 1

The Magyar monarchy had come to possess large estates when it inherited the tribes’ common property. The monarchy also had mines.  The monarchy’s resources were comparable to those of the Kings of France or England at the time.   However the aristocracies of the kingdom were also strong.  Over time the members of aristocratic class were given land from the monarchy.  The Magyar monarchy did not get promises of feudal loyalty in return, as the Monarchs of England and France did from their earls, barons and lords.   The pattern in the kingdom was aristocratic dominance of the monarchy accompanied by dynastic struggles which weakened it. 2  In the end the monarchy was not capable of resisting the Ottoman invasion, which began in the first half of the 15th century and ended in 1540 with the division of Hungary into 3 parts.  Most of present-day Hungary became a province of the Ottoman Empire. The northern and eastern parts became part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire.  The eastern part of the kingdom, including parts of present day Romania, was gradually became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1529 the Ottoman Empire attacked Vienna for the first time. The failure to take Vienna ended the Ottoman Empires expansion up the Danube valley into Europe. It attacked Vienna again in 1683. The occupation of Hungary was to be the high point of the Ottoman Empire and its failure to advance indicated its failure to innovate. It was on the way to becoming the “sick man of Europe.” Between the 2 attempts to take Vienna, Budapest was a meeting place between east and west.  It would take up this role again during the Soviet era.    

The longing for the past glory of the Hungarian Empire is one aspect of today’s Hungarian nationalism. 

The Romantic Movement links nationalism and the naturalistic ethos in Central Europe.

The thought of the Romantic Era was artistic and literary. It originated in Europe, and especially Germany, toward the end of the 18th century and lasted until about 1850.  It was partially a reaction against the industrial revolution and the excesses of the French revolution.  It was also a reaction against the rational universalism of the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific rationalization of nature which went with it.  It began as an intellectual and artistic movement but impacted education, the natural sciences, politics and the way that history was written.  Its impact on politics was complex. It was associated with liberalism, empowerment of individuals against imperial government and individual freedom to conduct business, but its lasting impact in Central Europe was the growth of nationalism.    

In the U.S. the Romantic Movement was represented by American Transcendentalism.  The American Environmental movement traces its origins to American Transcendentalists like John Muir and Henry David Thoreau.  The transcendentalists are also associated with political moralism, especially with abolitionism before the American Civil War.   

European Romantics were different from American Transcendentalists. They were more like the Southern Agrarians than the North Eastern Transcendentalists.  The Southern Agrarians were interested in recreating the culture of the South in the face of Northern industrialization. They were discredited when the rise of Fascism and National Socialism in Germany put them in a bad light.

Romantic notion of nationalism emphasized political liberalism, language, folk traditions and instead of noble rights and medieval privileges which was associated with the imperial regimes of the time and contributed to the breakup of the old empires including the Austro Hungarian Empire of which Hungary was a part.  This separates the Nationalists from the traditionalist conservatives, although nationalists are labeled conservatives today.
The veneration of folk traditions turns out to be important to the store of resistance to GMOs in Hungary because food traditions are folk traditions and they turn out to be linked to today’s Hungarian rejection of GMOs.

Hungary and the Magyar ethnicity

Hungarians are justifiably proud of their food and gardening traditions and their traditions. Traveling in Hungary one is struck not only by excellent food but the gardens, orchards and vineyards around small towns.  The contrast was sharper during the communist era when much Hungarian agriculture was collectivized and large scale. This small scale, artisanal production of agricultural products is an important part of Hungarian culture.

There is also a cowboy tradition in Hungary which emphasizes independence from authority.  The eastern part of the Hungarian plain is dry and suited to ranching.  Hungary has its csikós who guard horses and gulyás who tend cattle. And then there is the haiduk heritage.  The haiduks were outlaws or guerrilla fighters who harassed the Ottomans during the centuries of occupation.  To the Hungarians they were romantic heroes like the legendary Robin Hood who defied unjust laws and authority.

 

Hungarian Nationalism traditional involves resistance to empire and venerates freedom fighters like the haiduks. Today it involves resistance to GMOs.

Hungarian Nationalism traditionally involves resistance to empire and venerates freedom fighters like the haiduks. Today it involves resistance to GMOs.

 

Hungary had a special role in the European Revolutions of 1948

Hungarian nationalism in the 19th century defined itself in opposition to the uniformity of the Multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire.  19th century nationalism was liberal, nationalist, and naturalistic. It represented a Hegelian ideal of a unitary or corporatist society.  Today’s Hungarian nationalism defines itself in semi-opposition to the universalism of the EU rather than the universalism of the Austrian empire.   

Food traditions are among the folk traditions promoted by nationalists. The elevation of food traditionalism by Austrian and Hungarian nationalism has a role in conservative resistance to agricultural biotechnology in Hungary today.  Hungary has an interesting and delicious food heritage that contributes to the draw of Hungary as a travel destination.  From a scientific perspective, the use of corn biotechnology would do nothing to harm this culinary tradition, but it must be admitted that modernization in the liberal sense does tend to lead people away from the cultural traditions.  

In Western Europe the revolutions of  1848 focused on  national unification,  middle class civil liberties and economic rights to private ownership and contracts, but as the revolutionary impulse spread to the into Central Europe issues of nationalism, nationality and ethnicity came to predominate.  Even in Western Europe, although the revolutionaries of asked for civil liberties, there was a tendency for the old guard to grant them national rights instead. 

In Hungary, and even in Austria, a large middle class did not exist to support the liberal focus of the revolutions of 1848, demands for civil and business rights. Ethnic nationalism became the paramount issue for Italians, Slavs and Hungarians who resisted rule by the culturally German Habsburg state.  In Italy nationalism implied unification. In the other places it involved language laws and rules that favored one ethnic group over another. In Hungary it was to be interpreted as favoring Magyar language and ethnicity over the smaller ethnic groups.

Lajos Kossuth was a Hungarian lawyer, journalist, politician and champion of national independence.  He was popular as a freedom fighter and democrat in the US.  Iowa has a county named after him.  He became the leader, Regent-President of the Kingdom of Hungary during the revolution of 1848–49.  In Hungary the revolution involved pushing back the power of both the Habsburg Monarchy and the Diet of local aristocrats. The Hungarian parliament of the time only represented the nobility.

Hungarian politics in the 1840s was increasingly concerned with issues of ethnic nationalism. In 1843 the Diet declared Hungarian (Magyar) to be the official language of administration, replacing Latin.  There were radical voices who called for the exclusive use of Magyar in education. The Slavic and Romanian minorities were neglected.

The revolution went badly for the revolutionaries and in the summer of 1848, the Habsburgs recovered most of the power they had lost. Italian separatists were beaten in battle. A Habsburg general scattered the "Congress of Slavs" which had assembled in Prague, and put down the Bohemian revolution.  The Hungarian revolutionaries were still independent, but it appeared that Hungary would be the next group controlled.  The old entente involved maintaining the balance of power in Europe.  To reconquer Hungary the Habsburgs asked for Russian help to attack the Magyar nationalists from the east. The war ended in August 1849 with defeat for the nationalists.  German was imposed as the official language in Hungary and Hungarians were taxed just like Austrians.  The revolutionary nationalism worked in favor of the Habsburgs.  The Hungarian revolutionary support for Magyar language and culture made it easy for Croats, Serbs, Slovaks and Romanians to reject the revolution. But defeat was not the end of Magyar nationalism. From 1849 to 1867 the Habsburgs rulers attempted to politically exclude the Magyars nationalist and the German business liberals who had been involved in revolt in Vienna.  Exclusion did not work. Rejection of the German liberal and their business development was slowing the growth of the Imperial economy.  The German speakers in Austrian had come to reject their ethnic neighbors and came to favor protection of their German ethnic identity by the Crown as more important than their political liberties. They came to support the imperial government.  Business liberty had already been accepted by the Imperial government.  

Hungarians made a similar choice. They choose to seek Magyar national power over the ethnic minorities in Hungary, instead of full political independence from the Habsburgs. Hungarian leaders agreed to leave defense and foreign policy to the Habsburgs and remain within the empire, and also agreed to pay a proportional share of the imperial budget. In return the Magyar leaders got a the freedom to dominate with their ethnic minority populations. The Croats, Romanians, Serbs, and Slovaks were Hungarian minorities, but in combination their population nearly equaled that of the ethnic Magyars.  The dual Austro-Hungarian state was created.  

Although the Hungarian and German programs of 1848 had been initially defeated, by 1868 both had been partially achieved. Residents of the Dual Monarch had achieved national recognition and substantial civil rights and were represented by parliaments, although with limited powers. Liberal economic development was in process.  The idea of nationalism had become increasingly prominent in Austro-Hungarian politics, although that prominence was to have serious negative consequences for the next 75 years associated with 2 world wars.   Nationalism covered over the frictions between the aristocracy with the small holders and middle class.

There is a linkage between nationalism and traditionalist conservatism.  Nationalists were engaged with the idea that there was a collective bond between people and the land or the landscape.   Some members of the Romantic Movement had proposed that there was a special relationship between individuals and nature; that people got a spiritual experience from interaction with sublime nature, but in Central Europe the relationship between man and nature was more likely to be thought of as collective or social. Naturalism was a cultural and ethnic experience that bound the Hungarian people to their plains environment. 3 

The history of the environmental movement in Hungary can be traced to the early 20th century after the nation was re-established, the Magyar Kárpát Egyesület (Hungarian Carpathian Association) was founded. It was followed by hiking associations which helped establish environmental awareness.  They established rules which limited human impact in the wilderness areas. 4    

Given Hungary’s position within the Austro Hungary Empire and the Central Powers of WWI, it fared badly in the agreements after the war.  The ethnic groups that had been partially subjugated by Hungary were given territory and sometimes autonomy or roles within other nations: Czechs and Slovacks, Romanians, Slovenians and Serbians.  For Hungarian nationalists the losses were extremely difficult to accept. 

Nazi Empire

Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sought to enforce peacefully the claims of Hungarians on territories Hungary lost in 1920 with the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, and the two Vienna Awards returned parts of Czechoslovakia and Transylvania to Hungary.

In the Nazi era Hungary annexed small parts of present day Slovenia, Croatia Serbia, and Ukraine

In the Nazi era Hungary annexed small parts of present day Slovenia, Croatia Serbia, and Ukraine.

Territorial expansion was the primary material motive behind the Hungarian involvement with the Axis during WWII.  The Hungarians share nationalist sentiments with the Italian Fascists, German National socialists, and Japanese nationalists. However, secret negotiations between Hungarian leaders and the British and American Allies continued.  Aware of the deceit of the Hungarian leadership and fearing that Hungary might conclude a separate peace, Hitler ordered Nazi troops to occupy Hungary in March 1944.  Once again Hungary had been absorbed by a regional power.  The experience did not last long, but it was another wound to Hungarian national pride. 

Soviet empire again subjugates the Hungarian nation

Like the Austrians, the Soviets supported the minorities against the Magyar, and Hungary lost the territory which it had gained in cooperation with the Nazis.

The Soviet period is import in to the seed industry in Hungary because, under Soviet control, Hungary became one of the primary corn seed producing regions for the Soviet Union. 5  It was also an important period for environmentalism because the Communists were responsible for the development of heavy industry in Hungary, industry which was associated with substantial environmental damage. The forced development of heavy industry served cold war military objectives and would eventually provoke and national as well as environmental resistance. 

Hungarians continued to chaff under the yoke of empire in the balance of central European power. They had been lost by the Austrians but gained by the Russians.  The Soviets toyed with democracy in Hungary from 1945 to 1949, but having failed to win control in elections they merged the Soviet parliamentary allies into a single party, the People’s Party, and banned the opposition parties and established communist rule that was to last until 1989.

The leadership of the Hungarian Communist Part was made up of people who had spent the years of Nazi dominance before and during WWII in Moscow developing the trust of Stalin’s Party apparatus.  In the early 1950s Mátyás Rákosi, was the de facto the leader of Hungary and chief secretary of the Hungarian Working People’s Party.  He possessed power which was limited only by his relationship with Moscow, and demanded complete obedience from other party leaders. There was some competition from ‘Hungarian’ Communists who led the illegal party within the country during the WWI, and were considerably more popular with local party members.

Under communist rule the development of industry the traditional economic strengths of Hungary in agriculture and textiles were neglected.  In 1945 the Soviets broke up the large aristocratic properties which remained from the aristocratic past, but they proceeded to press for the creation of agricultural production cooperatives in which small holders would become merely paid laborers and had no right to dispose of any share of the land which they owned.  There was much resistance in the rural communities, but large cooperatives were created which in many ways resembled the aristocratic holdings which they replaced. Land owning peasants were declared to be class enemies and suffered legal and social discrimination some were imprisoned for resisting the loss of their independence and confiscation of their property.  The forced involvement with production cooperatives removed efficiency incentives and agricultural output declined to the point that there was a chronic scarcity of food, especially meat.  Interdependent farmers could not get investment money for agriculture because resources were going to industrialization.  Cooperatives could get some investment money but could not spend it efficiently.  The government attempted to get more production with compulsory food quotas imposed on peasants’ production from small plots which they retained.

In an effort to effort to separate the Church from the State, practically all religious schools became state property. Religious instruction was denounced as retrograde propaganda and was gradually eliminated from schools. The Hungarian churches were systematically intimidated. This forced change in agriculture, the economy, and religion was resented by Hungarian nationalists and provided a base from which the rejection of communism would eventually spring.

Imre Nagy came into power within the party in 1953. He would eventually be the leader of the 1956 rebellion, but his path to rebel leadership was not a simple one.  He had intended to just open the channels for public opinion to flow into the party.  He created the People’s Popular Front which played a role in the pathway to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Somewhat ironically People’s Popular Front would also play a role in the fall of communist power in the late 1980’s although in the intervening years it was an organ of party control.

Revolution of 1956 is another example of Hungarian nationalist resistance to empire.   After the revolution Hungary communist government managed to balance enough reform to prevent another national rebellion with enough conformity to Moscow’s desires to keep Moscow satisfied. 

Hungarian environmentalism advanced in the 1970s. The Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society (Magyar Madártani és Természetvédelmi Egyesület, MME) was established in 1974 as a non-profit organization for bird watching and nature conservation. Members helped in the establishment of other Hungarian environmental organizations.  There were also holisitic groups.  Bokor was a religious movement founded in 1945. It represented and attempt to return to the early Christian underground church.  It was protestant in the sense of be estranged from the Catholic Church but not linked to more conventional denominations.  It dealt with environmental issues and preached an alternative life style which involved non consumption.  The life style was later adopted by the Interdiszciplináris Tudományos Diákkör (ITDK, or Interdisciplinary Scientific Student Circle) when it was founded in 1981. Its ITDK members promoted their religious positions and lifestyle in lectures and workshops. 6
The PPF played a role in the eventual displacement of Communism from Hungary.  In the early 1980s the PPF was an umbrella group of organizations and institutions allied with the Hungarian Socialist workers Party. The Hungarian Minister of Culture at the time, Imre Pozsgay, developed doubts about communist rule in Hungary. Sensing his lack of enthusiasm Pozsgay was then removed from the government and placed in the People’s Patriotic Front (PPF). He became the general secretary of the organization. Poszsgay turned the organization back to the role which Imre Nagy had in mind in 1953 when it was established. Instead of being a puppet of the regime it became a channel through which public desires could reach the party.  The PPF began proposing new and workable solutions to Hungary’s mounting social, economic, and political problems. It also supped supporting civic NGO organizations and initiatives opposed to the ruling communists.  Opposition to the government began to form, including opposition to government environmental policy, or lack of it. 7

Hungarian environmentalism in the 1980s: the Danube movement

The preservation of the Danube in the form of resistance to construction of a large dam on the Danube was an important part of resistance to communist government in the mid-1980s.  If you ask the Hungarian greens where the Hungarian Environmental movement started, the answer is the Danube movement. There were several organizations which directly confronted the one-party system and its industrial policy. There was party reaction against the activists, some lost their jobs, but the movement continued.  The objective of the movement was landscape preservation and it can be considered to be in the Romantic natural space preservation tradition.

The Danube movement was separate from the environmental movement associated with higher education although there was overlap in their members. The university centered groups tended to use milder forms of civil disobedience.  It was the academic movement which was to evolve a connection with the postmodern environmentalism of the international environmental NGOs like Greenpeace.   The Danube movement was more closely associated with Hungarian nationalism. 8

After the fall of communism in 1989

Hungarian government since the fall of Communism in 1989 has been marked by sharp political turns.   In 1990 center right parties had the majority in parliament. The transition from a socialist economy to liberal markets negatively impacted the economy as business with Russia was cut off. Incomes and service declined.  In 1994 the Free Democrats (SZDSZ), the social democratic party, and the Socialists (MSZP) , which represented the remnants of the old communist party, came back into power with a mandate to fix the declining welfare of the public. This Free Democrats and Socialist coalition became strong supporters of European unity.  National resistance to conformity to EU standards is part of the resistance to these parties that led to their decline after 2009, although it must be said that the economic crisis of 2008-9 occurred on their watch and they took the blame for it.

The environmental movement in the 1990s was fragmented.  There were lots of local organizations working on various issues.  Parties came into existence and disappeared.  In the early 1990s the first Hungarian Green Party (Magyar Zöld Párt) was created. It was a conservative group and allied with the liberal elements of the first government.   It was followed by the Green Alternative Party (Zöld Alternativa). This was a party which was affiliated with the European Federation of Green Parties and was green in the international sense.  The Green Alternative Party was allied with the Free Democrats.  Neither of the green parties gained the allegiance of the bulk of the environmental community and neither contributed the evolution of the current Hungarian green party: Politics Can Be Different (Lehet Más a Politika, LMP) which did not come into existence until 2009.  In the long run, the first Hungarian Green Party was handicapped by its association with the difficulties of liberalism in the economic transition, and Green Alternative Party was handicapped by its association with the Free Democrats and the environmental damage caused by the old communist government.    

In the mid-1990s Hungarian activists came to believe that they didn’t have to fight against a central political power any longer. Instead their role was to oppose profit-oriented business, which was frequently western owned.  Instead of opponents of communism, they became opponents of capitalism.  Rejection of foreign influence was something that could be share by both those on the nationalist right and those on the radical left of the environmental movement.

In the fragmentation the environmental movement came to be coordinated through the internet and international issues like agricultural biotechnology came to be prominent as the local organization came to acquire affiliations with international NGOs like Greenpeace. 

In the transition the experience of Austria was very influential in Hungary.   Austria has an active conservative or wilderness protection oriented environmental community.   It has the largest component of organic production in its agriculture of any country in Europe.  In part this is because there is farming within some of Austria’s national parks and that farming is mandated to be organic.  The association of environmentalism with preservation of traditional agriculture is characteristic of Europe.  In the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia traditional preservationist environmentalism is more frequently associated with wilderness conservation.  In Europe rural conservation is more common, because so much of the native wilderness of Europe was converted to agriculture centuries or millennia ago.

In Austria there was a strong preservationist rejection of GMOs which spread to Hungary (and Slovenia), in part through proximity, but more importantly because of the common pre-Soviet common history of the two counties.

In 1999 the Fidesz party came to power and took up the rejection of GMOs

Organic production was institutionalized in 1999 under Fidesz following the Austrian model.

“Organic production is governed by decree 114/1999. (August 31, 1999) titled “Production, distribution and labeling of agricultural and food products produced under organic conditions” and the 2/2000 (January 18, 2000) Order of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment “On the detailed rules of production, distribution and labeling of agricultural and food products under organic conditions”.   Most organic production was for export, including most organic corn production. The rules for organic production exclude the use of genetically modified organisms.”

In 1999 Hungary regulated the use of GMO feed food and seed. At the time, a main argument for the rejection of field use of GMOs was the defense of Hungary’s position as a supplier non-GE corn and corn seed to the European markets. Maintaining an edge in European markets was also given as a reason for Hungary’s 2005 moratorium on the planting of MON 810. Mon810 had been approved the EU in 1997, but Austria had immediately banned it. Forces were already building that would make the new Hungarian GMO law a mechanism for limiting the use of GMOs rather than advancing it.   

There were polls taken in the late 1990s which indicated that some Hungarian consumers were willing to accept GE products and some farmers were quite curious about the technology. 9

In April 2002, the country voted to return the MSZP-Free Democrat coalition to power. The new government placed special emphasis on solidifying Hungary’s Euro-Atlantic course, In 2004 Hungary joined the European Union. Joining the EU might have been expected to indicate limited acceptance of GMOs but it was not to be. In early 2005 the Government of Hungary imposed a moratorium on the planting corn varieties containing the MON 810 event.  This was done by the left leaning MSZP.  Biotech opponents praised the European Union Council of Ministers for upholding Hungary’s ban in February 2007 and March 2009. 

The global economic crisis spilled over into Hungary in autumn 2008, and severely impacted the country.  The government’s austerity measures, imposed since late 2006, reduced the budget deficit from over 9% of GDP in 2006 to 4.2% in 2010 and 2.9% in 2011.  The austerity measures alienated the electorate.  The MSZP Prime Minister resigned in March 2009 and was succeeded by a technocratic crisis management government.  The scene was set for a government change which would emphasize resistance to EU regulation rather than accommodation.

New Fidesz government rejected the use of GMOs

In April 2010 Parliamentary elections brought a Fidesz-KDNP coalition back to power with a mandate to make living conditions better.

Hungary had gotten involved with the World Bank, an organization disliked by populists of the left and right. In late 2008, with the global financial crisis, Hungary had been unable to service its short-term debt. The government obtained a $25 billion IMF/EU/World Bank arranged financial assistance package. Hungary was the first EU country to receive an IMF-led bailout. In 2011 the increasing weakness of the Hungarian currency and investors’ growing loss of trust in the country’s economy, made the government negotiate with the World Bank again.  But the austerity measures which had already been put in place eventually allowed Hungary to borrow in the commercial markets and the Fidesz government was able to avoid further distasteful borrowing from the World Bank.  

The 2010 elections gave the Fidesz coalition a two-thirds majority which gave them enough seats to change the constitution. In 2010 the new government cut business and personal income taxes, but imposed "crisis taxes" on financial institutions, energy and telecom companies, and retailers. This movement was seen by liberals as interference with the business community even if it helped to limited World Bank interference. 

The Fidesz-dominated Parliament quickly launched an ambitious legislative agenda that has promised to reduce the overall number of seats in Parliament to change the democratic structure of Hungary and extended citizenship and voting rights to ethnic Hungarians living beyond the country’s present borders. The former is seems to exclude opposition parties, and the latter is interpreted as nationalist by those on the left. There is a reference to the role of Christianity in “preserving the nation” which is also regarded by the opposition on the left as conservative. Additionally, it passed laws on the media, the restructuring of the judiciary, elections, and the central bank. Interference with the media has been characterized by left wing as anti-democratic. 

Some of the measures which improved the government’s fiscal balance included nationalization of some $14 billion in assets previously managed by private pension funds, windfall taxes on banks and other companies, taxes on all financial transactions and telephone calls, a flat income tax rate of 16 percent, forcing gas and electricity companies to cut utility prices for households and the EU’s highest VAT rate (27%) . Some of these measures were regarded by free market liberals as interference with the business community although they improved the government’s ability to borrow. 

Energy policy is shows the tendencies of Fidesz to expand the role of government in the economy.   The Hungarian government compressed utility companies’ profit margins by both controlling power generation and at the same time capping energy prices, limiting margins for the companies.  Over the next two years, the Fidesz government wants to take the assets of foreign owned utilities and convert them into non-profit organizations. In 2013 a state-owned energy group purchased a private gas trade and storage businesses. The government is willing to give up the advantages of competition in improving the services provide by utilities in order to present the populist image of protecting Hungarian consumers from exploitation by foreign businesses.

Agricultural Biotechnology since 2010

Like most other European countries, Hungary has a long term shortage of protein for animal feed. To meet this demand, Hungary imports large quantities of soybean meal annually for use by the poultry, pork, and dairy sectors. Since the beginning of the use of biotechnology most soybean imports are in the form of meal extracted from GM soybeans.

The Fidesz super majority in parliament in 2010 had a major impact on the regulation of agricultural biotechnology. The new constitution included a ban on GMO crops. The philosophy of the governing coalition is associated with conservative populist sentiments against globalization, foreign influence, and support for traditional Hungarian values. In agriculture, this has led to a public emphasis on domestic plant and animal varieties, traditional and organic production methods, and to a certain extent, campaigns against foreign technologies, foreign ownership, and foreign products. While the rhetoric has at times been strong, in practice there has been little change in the agricultural technologies used or crops chosen by Hungarian farmers since 2010.

Following the 2010 elections, the former Ministries of Environment and Agriculture were merged into the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD). This reflected the growing voice of the Hungarian green movement and resulted in further administrative opposition to GE crops and related enforcement measure.  It also strengthened the role of the environmentalist who had been in the Ministry of the Environment in the regulation of Hungarian Agriculture. Nearly everywhere in the world there is a tendency of Ministries of the Environment to oppose GMO more than the ministries of agriculture which are involved in productivity.

A recent amendment of the Act on Biotechnology did not bring large new policy changes; however, it give the government broader and stronger enforcement of the law through the use of Ministry Orders.

The new constitution states that (1) all citizens have the ‘right to physical and spiritual health, ” and “Hungary promotes the realization of the rights as stated in paragraph (1) by operating an agriculture free of genetically modified organisms, by providing access to healthy food and drinking water, by organizing labor safety and health care, by subsidizing sports and regular physical training and by ensuring protection of the environment.”  Supporters of biotechnology regret that rejection of biotechnology has been built into the constitution, where it will be difficult to change.  The reference to “spiritual health” as a justification for rejection of biotechnology reveals the non-scientific basis for the rejection of biotechnology.  Arguments about physical health can be resolved with science when based on physical evidence.  Arguments about “spiritual health” are much more difficult to resolve, as they are other-worldly by definition. In politics questions about the spiritual frequently are resolved by reference to tradition. 

The amendment gives additional authority to environmental, agricultural, and industrial biotechnology authorities.  In area in whiThe new law requires cooperation by GE variety owners with the Ministry officials. This includes a requirement that GE crop developers and seed companies are obliged to provide authorities with samples of genetic material and seed that can be tested for compliance with GM regulations. This rational given for this is that authorities may not only require control or additional tests by the applicant, but the Ministry office may also do its own research on ecological or other effects and/or contract testing with independent laboratories.

Recent seed quality incidents

Corn is the most common target of the government’s GE testing efforts. In late 2010 and in the spring of 2011, the Minister of Rural Development announced that it would do its own sampling of planting seed for traces of GE traits. The testing was put in place during the seed distribution and planting season. Months after planting had occurred, the Hungarian government told two foreign seed companies that the testing had detected GE traits in their conventional seeds.  The authorities ordered the destruction of several thousands of hectares of corn and a smaller area of soybeans. The companies were forced to pay farmers for the fields at a cost of millions dollars. In 2012, traits were detected by government testing in the seed of another foreign company, and 1500 hectares of corn were destroyed.

There have been substantial doubts about the accuracy of sampling and tests conducted by Hungarian authorities, and Hungarian officials have refused to share details of their sampling and testing programs related to alleged violations. In 2011 Hungarian officials also refused to consider independent sampling and testing results in its enforcement decisions. The companies maintain internal ISO-certified testing processes that are supported by testing results from independent accredited labs throughout Europe.  At the margins of the limits of detection, sampling will cause variation in detection results but at these levels the amounts are trivial.

The amount of corn destroyed was influenced they the regulations established with the coexistence laws.  The isolation distance set in the GM coexistence regulation for corn is 400 meters, several times more than that of the distance typically used in hybrid seed propagation, and much larger than the required isolation distances in the few EU Member States producing biotech crops. For example, in Hungary, if a 30-hectare field was planted with biotech corn, then the 152 hectares surrounding it should be planted with other crops than corn. The question of unnecessarily large isolation distance under coexistence regulation came up in the summer of 2011 when fields planted with corn seed allegedly containing GE traces were ordered destroyed.  The corn areas within the coexistence isolation distance were required to be destroyed, and the existence of these limits significantly increased costs to private firms. 10

In Western Europe GMO regulation was part of a broad pattern of public concern over environmental risks and public health

In Western Europe in the 1990s food tradition was mentioned as part of the cause for resistance to agricultural biotechnology, but regulatory momentum in combination with the food scares of the 1980s and 19990s seems to provide a better explanation for the GMO regulatory frenzy which took place.

By 2000 the differences in the regulation of agricultural biotechnology in the U.S. and Europe were striking.  The decline in American agricultural exports to Europe was large. The American share of European corn imports dropped from 86% in 1995 to 12% in 1999, largely because while the US had approved eleven GM traits in corn, the EU had approved only four and the other 7 were taboo.

In June of 1999 the environment ministers of the EU supported a moratorium on approval of biotechnology products.  By the fall of 2000, the EU had not approved any new seed GM traits for more than two years (under Directive 90/220).  At the same time the marketing of new food products under the Novel Foods Regulations had also been effectively stopped.  Much effort had been put on modification of the GMO regulations which were to be released in the spring of 2001. The new regulations and policy were intended to ease the approval of new GMO foods, but none were approved until 2006. No new trait for seed use was approved until the approval of the Amflora potato in 2010.   

Even by 1995 the differences between Europe and the United States in public attitudes are already both substantial and well established.  These differences existed before even before GMO foods and seeds had been taken up in the political environment.  A 1995 survey of consumers reported that only 21% of American consumers regarded genetic engineering as a "serious health hazard." By contrast, the comparable figure was 85% in Sweden, 60% in Austria, 57% in Germany, 48% in the Netherlands, 39% in the United Kingdom, and 38% in France. 11

How are such differences to be explained? The list of general explanations for the reaction of Europeans against GMO seeds in the late 1990’s is reasonably well defined: the new European risk management regime, agricultural protectionism, and food tradition.  Of the 3 causes the application of the new European Risk regime seems most plausible. 

It was reasonable to consider producer interest because there had been import bans which were intended to support the economic interests of producers.  The most well-known example was the 1989 ban on beef from hormone treated cattle.  This did protect EU cattle producers (although it applied to them also) and was taken to a WTO dispute panel which found that it did violate the conditions of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards of the Uruguay Round Trade Agreement. After the EU refused to comply with the panel’s judgment, the US imposed punitive tariffs on approximately $100 million worth of European agricultural exports including Roquefort cheese. The reaction against this action might have played a role in swing opinion against the U.S. but it does not appear that EU corn and soybean producers really benefited from the GMO bans.  Europe did not take up the replacement of GM soybeans, those continue to be imported.  U.S. corn was displaced from the market but it was imported from other countries, Hungary included, rather than being produced in the old Europe Union.  Economic market protection does not explain the ban well.

Public opposition to GMOs did assume an anti-American or anti-globalization flavor.  The first GM seed came from the U.S.  The U.S. government  and Monsanto took a stand against labeling which Europeans saw as an effort to impose GM food on the European market.  The growth of Monsanto and DuPont in the seed business appeared threatening to Europeans (including Hungarians). The introduction of GMO products in the food markets coincided with the U.S. sanctions in retaliation for the EU hormone ban.  But the force behind these reactions had more to do with Green resistance to industrial agriculture than it had with economic protection of European agricultural producers.

Some American and European journalists suggested that trans-Atlantic differences with respect to GMOs have cultural roots.  This suggestion may originate with the cultural turn of postmodernism in which culture is assumed to play a greater role in political authority than economics or science.   Economics and science had dominated scientific materialism in Marxist explanations of political change but postmodernism moved away from these drivers.   If within the postmodernism of the new environmentalism “culture matters,” then cultural explanations were sought.  

According to a Washington Post article, even with different cuisines in different countries  "the countries of Western Europe share a deep hostility to food fiddling of any kind. . . . to European consumers the idea of eating a hormone-injected steak or tomatoes whose genes have been reordered by science – quelle horreur!" 12  The European preference for natural food was contrasted with American preference for industrial and fast food. 

Reference was made to the European cultural tendencies to preserve the rural countryside: "When Europeans think of wildlife and the rural environment, they think of farmland, and for them GM technology appears to be the next step in an unwelcome intensification of agriculture. Americans, in contrast, think of the wilderness areas their national parks; they regard farmland as part of the industrial system." 13  But these cultural observations do not seem to connect the dots of how politics and regulations actually were enacted in Western Europe.  They had some validity in the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria (and later Hungary) but they do not seem to provide a direct explanation of regulatory change in France, the U.K or Sweden. 

The explanation which seems to fit best in Western Europe seems to be an explanation which involves environmental risk regulatory history and momentum.  In the 1960s and 1970s the U.S. got out ahead of Europe in regulation of environmental risk.  If one goes back to the trade disputes of those years one finds that Europeans frequently accused America of using environmental regulation to protect American markets. After 1985 there was a tendency for European standards to catch up to American environmental and customer protection standards.  Regulation of asbestos and lead provide examples in which European standards have caught up to American ones. In the 1990s environmental protection had momentum in Western Europe.  The EU bans on hormones in beef production and the use of phthalate softeners in toys and child car articles provide examples where this momentum took the EU ahead of the U.S., as do European recycling requirements.  There had been many examples where political action on environmental risk issues in the U.S. during the 1960s and 70s preceded the accumulation of scientific evidence.  In cases such as the Alar scare and the regulation of toxic waste via the Superfund after the Love Canal situation, political action may have been out of proportion to the risks which risk science might have supported.  In Europe in the 1990s the precautionary principle became a popular justification for European political action on environmental risk.  The adaptation of more risk adverse policies for GMO in Europe was part of a very broad social pattern relating to risk, more than it was a specific reaction to economic interest of European farmers or the specific culture of European food naturalism. 
Much of European Community (the European Union’s predecessor) environmental policy-making during the 1970s and 80s represented a struggle between the EC’s three "green" Member States; Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark; where constituencies representing environmental civic interests enjoyed considerable public support and influence, and Britain, France and Italy, where they did not.  In Britain, France and Italy interest in economic growth generally prevailed.  The environmental interest in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark can be seen as a surviving inheritance of from the Romantic Era.  It was a cultural tendency which found expression in politics.  In the 1990s the strong public interest in, and support for, stricter health and environmental standards spread south and west.  The appointment of Dominique Voynet from the Green party as Minister of the Environment in 1997 signaled the change in France. The spread of environmental NGO and the Green Parties were another indication of a basic shift in attitudes toward risk which could and did influence environmental policy in a broad range of issues GMOs included.  Since the U.K. France and Italy did not have strong cultural environmental traditions it would not be appropriate to assert that cultural traditions lead to GMO regulation in Europe.

If one had to pick out one event which would push this shift in regulatory attitudes forward, it was the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. By the 1990s Europeans had become aware of their common vulnerability to the dangers of modern technology and were asking for regulatory changes to address those risks.

The actual changes which would take place came to be associated with the European Union put in place following the enactment of the Single European Act in 1987. The EU is first and foremost a regulatory state.  It is through issuing rules that it shapes public policy in the Member States, and rules relating to consumer and environmental safety have become an important part of its role.  But the power of the Member States in making consumer and environmental regulations in Member States within the EU continues to be strong.  The EUs ability to dictate to Member States is limited.  Thus a member like Hungary or Austria can diverge. 

Although momentum influenced the pace of regulation in Western Europe, the need of bureaucracies to defend their actions with science  in court later led to the European Commission taking measures which were unpopular with the environmental community and the public. Just as American regulatory agencies strengthened their scientific expertise and arguments so that they can defend their regulatory decisions in federal court from challenges by both public NGO interest groups and private business, so the need of both national and European authorities to defend their decisions before the European Court of Justice and World Trade Organization dispute panels has led them to use more rigorous scientific risk assessments.   These risk assessments do not support the continued bans on GMO cultivation and seed use.

In the 1980s and 1990s there were a number of regulatory failures which influenced the momentum of regulation in Europe. The failure which most influence the status of GMOs in the public eye was the mad cow disease( BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy). BSE was first detected in cattle in the UK in 1982. The European Commission accepted assurances from the British Ministry of Agriculture that it posed no danger to humans. Scapie in sheep seemed to indicate that transmission to humans would not be a problem.  It turned out that the scientists should have paid more attention to Kuru.  Kuru is a human prion disease which was once endemic to tribal regions of Papua New Guinea where cannibalism was practiced and indicated the possible problems of eating prion contaminated “meat.” The crisis over BSE broke in 1996. The British Government announced that ten cases of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease had been diagnosed in humans, and that these cases were likely related to exposure to BSE in cattle.  The public had a lesson in the fallibility of science at the same time that GM grain started to move in international trade.  The demand for regulation to manage BSE spread to demand for GMO regulation and for regulation in other public health issues.  The BSE crisis reinforced a demand to apply the precautionary principle to regulate, even when the science to support regulation was uncertain. There were other food and environmental crises in Europe: Asbestos, HIV in the blood supply in France, outbreaks of e-coli, salmonella in eggs and listeria in the U.K. but it was BSE which feed the pubic desire to increase precautionary European regulation of food safety.  

Even in the late 1990s most scientists on both sides of the Atlantic regarded the most important risks associated with GMOs as environmental and the risks to human health as minimal to non-existent in practical terms, but it was health concerns which dominated public GMO discourse in Western Europe. If cultural traditions had been important in guiding the path of GMO environmental regulations in Europe, we could have expected a focus on the environmental impact of GMOs but it was health concerns which drove regulation.

Hungary joined the more traditional environmentally sensitive countries when it banned GMO use. The list includes Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austrian and now Solvenia.  In Western Europe the GMO bans in the 1990s and early 200s were a part of a broad pattern of environmental safety improvement.  This broad regulatory pattern was not incompatible concerns with the industrialization and economic liberalization of society which fit with both traditional environmental sensitivities tracing back to the romantic era and with postmodern social anarchism resisting both centralized socialism and liberal capitalism. The western European push behind the environmental regulation was more immediately concerned with public health. 14

Conclusion:  In Hungary resistance to biotechnology was primarily supported conservatives citing food tradition

While polling data is scarce, it appears that among Hungarian farmers there are some who would like to use agricultural biotechnology. Corn borers and corn root worms are problems in Hungary and one would expect practical solutions to create interest. 

The present Hungarian government plays an active role in portraying GE crops negatively. The government’s campaign for “Quality Hungarian Food” has helped make consumers cautious about anything “artificial,” whether it is additives, new processing practices, or GE crops.  In November and December of 2012, Hungary’s new Ministry of Rural Development launched a national road show titled, “United for GMO-free Agriculture.” The road show travelled to eight locations in Hungary and was intended to inform farmers and the interested public.  The events were held at universities and national park auditoriums and a website was also created (http://gmo.kormany.hu ) to present the same arguments. The moderator and one of the speakers were from the Ministry and other speakers were from non-governmental organizations opposed to the use of agricultural biotechnology. The role of the government in sponsorship and coordination is unusual in Hungary or other European countries. The anti-GM position is not science-based, but it is consistent with the government’s emphasis on Hungarian food and agricultural traditions.

The major point of this story about Hungarian regulation in the context of nationalism is that it is possible for a conservative government to oppose the use of agricultural biotechnology when elements of the National culture and character are conceived to be in conflict with GMO usage.  The dominance of such food traditionalism in anti-GM activity in Hungary makes the Hungarian regulatory scene different that of Western Europe where regulation of agricultural biotechnology road was part of a broad wave of environmental regulation that had been building in Western Europe for 15 years prior to 2000 and became involved in more real concerns with BSE and other reality or science-based health concerns which had come up in the era.

People are social and believing beings as well as being economic and rational.  Nationalism and ethnocentrism are inevitable parts of our existence, just as inevitable as, say, feet.  They will get worked out with symbols and taboos.  They serve both positive and negative roles, which get worked out over time with social interaction.     

Hungarians have a proud history that needs some tending.  The location of their homeland on its broad plain makes it hard to defend against empire.  The modern EU offers the possibility of ending the centuries of being the pawn of empire, but accepting the EU will mean that Hungarians will need to give up some bits of their national identity to the larger European organization.  At times that process will wear against the frayed edges of their national social fabric. 

For part of the Hungarian population resistance to genetically engineered crops has become a symbol of Hungarian national pride.   To those of us on the outside, this seems a misguided use for national pride.  Hungarians farmers are good practical corn producers which do not need the protection which differential access to European markets provide.  The human race has not yet managed to solve the population problem and we need the additional food which agricultural biotechnology can help produce. Resistance to the use of agricultural biotechnology does not make bowl of Hungarian fish soup any better.  The preservation of the Danube from the dam may have improved the quality of the fish in the soup, but keeping GMs out of Hungarian beef production will not improve the flavor of the beef in the goulash.  Nor will it help the next time a military empire moves across the Hungarian plain. 

1 Laszlo Makkai, “The Hungarians’ Prehistory, Their Conquest of Hungary and Their Raids to the West to 955,” and “The Foundation of the Hungarian Christian State, 950-1196,” in Peter F. Sugar, ed., A History of Hungary, Indiana University Press , 1990.

2 Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman times to the French Revolution, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

3 Not entirely different from blood and soil in German Nationalism

4 Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), Hungary (archieved)

5 Along with Moldova, Ukraine and the Krasnodar region in Russia

6 Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), Hungary (archieved)

7 Maciej Siekierski and Jolanta Szabone Szuba, “Communism Does Not Work,” Hoover Digest, April 10, 2010.

8 Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), Hungary (archieved)

9 U.S. Foreign Agricultural Services, GAIN, notes especially Peter Nemes, Agricultural Biotechnology Annual, no. HU1303, /30/ 2013.

10 This section depends heavily on U.S. Foreign Agricultural Services, GAIN, notes especially Peter Nemes, Agricultural Biotechnology Annual, no. HU1303, /30/ 2013.

11 Tomas Hoban, "Consumer Acceptance of Biotechnology: An International Perspective," Nature Biotechnology March, 1997: 233.

12 Anne Swardson "Round 2 of the Food Flight: Genetically Altered Items" Washington Post National Weekly Edition April 5, 1999: 20.

13 Clive Cookson and Vanesse Houlder, "An Uncontrolled Experiment," Financial Times Feb 13/14 1999: 7.

14 This section relies heavily on Diahanna Lynch, and David Vogel, The Regulation of GMOs in Europe and the United States: A Case-Study of Contemporary European Regulatory Politics, Council on Foreign Relations Press, April 5, 2001.

Seed Keywords:

Seed, regulation, Hungary, GMO, biotechnology, political, romantic movement, nationalism, naturalism, environment, Danube, conservative, Fidesz, Member State, EU, European Union, history, religion, populist, empire, Austria, Soviet, Communist, liberalism, food tradition, culture.

About Paul Christensen

I am retired Coordinator of the Seed Technology and Business program at the Iowa State University Seed Science Center and Staff member of BIGMAP, the Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products. I have also worked for Monsanto, DEKALB Genetics, and Funk Seeds International, which is now part of Syngenta, and worked for USAID in Africa. Much of my technical activity has been associated with product testing and development. As a University Faculty member, I was exposed to many forms of opposition to agricultural biotechnology and the commercial seed industry, and I think that I have developed a unique understanding of some of the philosophical opposition to modern plant technology. I have a well-developed understanding of the kinds of arguments used for and against seed and biotechnology regulation and policy. I have focused on corn, sorghum and sunflower.
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