Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

One Turkey, Seven Drumsticks: A Look at Genetically Modified Food Labeling Laws in the United States and the European Union

Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

One Turkey, Seven Drumsticks: A Look at Genetically Modified Food Labeling Laws in the United States and the European Union

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

If you want to know whether the lunch you eat exceeds the suggested daily caloric intake, or if it contains high fructose corn syrup, you simply read the label to find out. (1) If you would like to know if the food you are eating contains a genetically modified organism (GMo), however, you will not find that information on the package. (2) Currently, up to 80% of processed foods contain GMos and with the American diet largely consisting of processed foods, chances are, a majority of what you are eating contains food made in a lab. (3) In 2006, the United States became the world's largest producer of genetically engineered (GE) crops and while proponents argue that GE crops provide important benefits, such as increased crop yields and decreased pesticide usage, opponents claim that there are significant risks such as the transfer of genetically modified proteins to human cells. (4) Despite consumer desire for GMO labeling, and the overwhelming amount of countries that require some type of regulation, the United States' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided almost twenty years ago that GMOs do not need to be labeled, reasoning that they were not "materially" different from other foods. (5)

GE plants have been strongly resisted in Europe, and in response to public fear and desire to abolish the growth and importation of GMOs, the European Union tried to ban the use of GMOs completely. (6) The United States, Argentina, and Canada, however, challenged this ban at the World Trade Organization leaving the European Union to rely on strict processes and labeling regimes in order to control the domestic growth and importation of GMOs. (7) The anti-GMO attitude of the European Union has spread, resulting in sixty-four countries' mandating GMO food labeling laws in place, while the United States lags behind. (8) Currently, in the United States, more than seventy bills have been introduced at the Federal level in over thirty states to either require GMO labeling or prohibit genetically engineered foods. (9) This Note proposes a framework for establishing mandated labeling of GMOs in the United States as a result of comparing current state initiatives in comparison to the E.U. regime. (10)

Part II provides the history and development of biotechnology, addressing concerns regarding GMOs. (11) Part III discusses the effects of GMOs giving rise to mandatory labeling laws and rationale behind consumers' right to know what is in their food. (12) Part IV will examine the E.U.'s approach to regulating agricultural biotechnology in comparison to current food labeling laws in the United States. (13) Part V will propose a labeling regime for the United States based on that of the European Union, which allows all states to have some form of GMO labeling law in place, through state police powers. (14) Finally, this Note concludes with a discussion of potential issues, namely economic issues that companies may face due to inconsistencies nation-wide and a shift in consumer behavior away from GMOs, that could be the result of the proposed labeling regime led by individual states. (15)

II. HISTORY AND CONTROVERSY OF BIOTECHNOLOGY

For 10,000 years, farmers have been selecting and breeding desirable characteristics to improve plants and animals that are commonly used in crop and livestock agriculture. (16) Biotechnology has developed in such a way that researchers can take one or more specific genes from any organism and introduce that gene into the genome of another organism. (17) Scientists start by identifying a desired gene, then cutting that gene out of the DNA of an organism, copying the gene, adding other DNA to both ends of the copied gene, and introducing it to the cells of another organism, resulting in the production of new varieties of crops. (18) As described above, the use of biotechnology through recombinant DNA has increased over time, as the first genetically engineered plant varieties were planted in the United States and Canada in 1990 and the first commercial release of such plant varieties was in 1992. …

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