Genetically Modified Food and International Law - the Biosafety Protocol and Regulations in Europe

By Nanda, Ved P. | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Genetically Modified Food and International Law - the Biosafety Protocol and Regulations in Europe


Nanda, Ved P., Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


I. INTRODUCTION

Biotechnology has the potential to transform industry, including pharmaceuticals, and agriculture.(1) The Biosafety Protocol [hereinafter Protocol], adopted by over 130 states in Montreal, Canada, on January 30, 2000, defines modern biotechnology in the context of regulating the international trade of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This regulation takes place through the application of "(a) In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or (b) Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection."(2) The Protocol defines a living organism as "any biological entity capable of transferring or replicating genetic material, including sterile organisms, viruses and viroids."(3) It defines a living modified organism as "any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology."(4) Thus, a GMO or transgenic product is created by inserting foreign genes from one organism into another, thereby crossing species barriers. Thus, genes from viruses, bacteria and animals may be planted in grains, fruits and vegetables.

Genetic modification (GM) or manipulation in agriculture, undertaken by what is commonly known as genetic engineering, is aimed at increasing the quantity of world food supplies and improving their quality by enhancing beneficial traits, such as making crops resistant to insects or herbicides and reducing their dependence on pesticides. Two examples are insect-resistant corn and Roundup-Ready soybeans, which are impervious to Roundup herbicide, manufactured by the giant biotech firm Monsanto, the largest producer of GM seeds. Major substantive issues related to the creation and use of and trade in GMO products include the threat to biological diversity, economic considerations, intellectual property issues, ethical and religious concerns, risks to human and animal life or health, consumers' right to know, and food security.(5) The security interest, may be affected in several says, such as further consolidation of control over the methods of food production in the hands of a few large firms, excessive use of chemicals because of the increasing resistance of crops to herbicides, and reductions in crop diversity.(6)

While all these issues are important, in this paper I will focus the discussion primarily on 1) the attempts internationally to regulate the trade in GMOs by the adoption of the Biosafety Protocol, and 2) regulation of GMOs in Europe. The first section will briefly describe the controversy. The second section will discuss the regulatory practice in the United States. The third and fourth sections will describe and analyze the Biosafety protocol and GMOs' regulation in Europe, respectively, before the final concluding section.

II. THE CONTROVERSY

The use of biotechnology in agricultural practices has increased substantially in the United States and other major food exporting countries. These exporters are also the foremost proponents of the biotechnology industry and operate as the so-called "Miami Group"(7). To illustrate, 50 percent of soybean and one-third of corn crops in the United States in 1999 were grown from GM seed, and almost all canola oil in the US is made from genetically altered rape seeds.(8) Similarly, in Argentina, the world's largest soybean exporter, GM soybeans accounted for approximately 70 percent of the 1998-99 soybean crop.(9)

The controversy surrounds the genetically modified crops because of the potential long-term risks to human health and the environment caused by the release of GMOs into the environment. Proponents claim that GM foods are beneficial because of their higher nutrient value and because of their capacity to substantially increase food production to feed the world's growing population. …

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