Thursday, March 15, 2007

GMOs Invade Kansas

Today a group of scholars converged on the University of Kansas School of Law to grapple with GMO issues ranging from the thorny to the sublime. The KU Law School Journal of Law and Public Policy artfully arranged a diversity of topics, each of which is summarized below.

Andrew Torrance (yes, yours truly), Associate Professor at KU Law School, kicked off the talks by reviewing the origins, history, science, and controversy of genetic engineering, genetic modification, and GMOs. Then, he argued that patent protection was emerging as a significant locus of GMO regulation at the same time as mounting scientific evidence undermines the salience of concerns that GMOs and GM food pose unique threats to human health and environmental safety.

Bernd van der Muelen, Professor of Law and Governance, and Director of the European Institute for Food Law, at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, outlined the modern legal framework in the European Union for regulating GM food.

Jody Roberts, of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, next delivered a paper in which he argued that, rather than simply consider how best to regulate GMOs and GM food, society should revisit the question of whether these technologies are worth pursuing at all. He articulated a vision of an alternative future in which organic agriculture and other low-impact practices are implemented through a more democratic process of choosing technologies.

After lunch, Margaret Grossman, Bock Chair in Agricultural Law at the University of Illinois, outlined the legal framework being established in the European Union and its constituent countries to regulate the local "coexistence" of GM crops and non-GM crops.

Drew Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, delivered a passionate proposal for the adoption of "high-tech" (including GM) crops and livestock capable of enhancing the productivity of agriculture while lessening the environmental impact of agriculture. He forcefully argued his view that such adoption was necessitated by (1) the growing demands for food by burgeoning populations in poor, less developed countries, (2) the dire effects current agricultural practices have on the environment, and (3) little scientific evidence that GMOs and GM food have unique adverse effects on human health or the environment.

Rebecca Bratspies, Associate Professor at the City University of New York Law School, concluded the symposium by providing an overview of the United States' legal regime for regulating GMOs and GM food. In doing so, she pointed out a number of gaps in the GM regulatory system, including shortcomings in achieving "scientific regulation". She also explored the cutting edge of GM: biopharming.

A few observations were repeated frequently in the talks:

(1) GM crops are rapidly increasing their share of global agriculture,

(2) The regulatory hurdles facing GM crops and GM food are substantial, and significantly affect decisions about whether or not to pursue commercialization, and

(3) GMOs remain highly controversial around the world.


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