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Agricultural Biotechnology: History, Science, and Society (October 2013): Legal and Regulatory Issues

By Brian R. Shmaefsky

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Agriculture is a highly controlled process with numerous regulations and laws designed to protect public health and the environment from any possible harm from food production.  Food safety issues are the biggest concern of agriculture, and agricultural biotechnology, in particular, is scrutinized because of its newness and uniqueness.  Food Safety of Proteins in Agricultural Biotechnology, edited by Bruce Hammond, gives an overview of the considerations used to determine the safety of biotechnology foods for animal and human consumption.  Potentially harmful molecules in food are a primary concern.  Other suspicions about biotechnology foods include unintentional food-poisoning diseases associated with raising biotechnology animals and crops.  Some food safety advocacy groups believe the genetically modified foods may contain unknown harmful chemicals that cause allergies and digestive disorders in humans.  Agricultural Biotechnology, Food Safety and Nutritional Quality for the Consumer, edited by June Fessenden MacDonald, looks at food safety from the perspective of the nutritional values of biotechnology foods compared to those of traditionally produced foods.

Food security—availability of and access to food—is another major legal issue.  Claire Hope Cummings discusses the general principles of food security in Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds.  Hiwot Gebremariam uses Ethiopia as a case study for understanding food security principles in Agricultural Biotechnology for Food Security.  Agricultural biotechnology animals and plants have not yet been proven affordable and sustainable.  Many countries are concerned that replacing traditional methods with expensive practices might not be successful in the long term.  Part of food security involves having a diversity of foods, thus limiting food shortages when one particular animal or crop is not available.  Agricultural Biodiversity and Biotechnology in Economic Development, edited by Joseph Cooper, Leslie Lipper, and David Zilberman, explains sustainable strategies for ensuring food alternatives using biotechnology innovations.

Other books describing the sustainability of agricultural biotechnology include The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States by the National Research Council and The Role of Biotechnology in a Sustainable Food Supply, edited by Jennie Popp et al.  The role of agricultural biotechnology in developing nations is discussed in great detail in Biotechnology and Agricultural Development: Transgenic Cotton, Rural Institutions and Resource-Poor Farmers, edited by Robert Tripp.

As with many other commercial endeavors, there are concerns that large multinational biotechnology corporations will monopolize agriculture.  In Strategic Alliances as Social Facts: Business, Biotechnology, and Intellectual History, Mark De Rond shows how corporations protect their rights over biotechnology innovations; the goal is to prevent other entities from commercializing their products.  Jay Kesan describes the subtleties involved in protecting the ownership of agricultural biotechnology innovations in Agricultural Biotechnology and Intellectual Property: Seeds of Change.  Other discussions of intellectual property can be found in Seed Wars: Controversies and Cases on Plant Genetic Resources and Intellectual Property by Keith Aoki.

Agricultural biotechnology also presents unique legal issues when its products are traded internationally because laws that regulate biotechnology animals and plants vary greatly from one country to another.  Three books that discuss this issue are Agricultural Biotechnology and Transatlantic Trade: Regulatory Barriers to GM Crops by Grant Isaac; Agricultural Biotechnology in International Development by Catherine Ives and Bruce Bedford; and Seeds, Science, and Struggle: The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops by Abby Kinchy.  Books addressing policies specific to North America include Melinda Cooper’s Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era and Regulation of Agricultural Biotechnology: The United States and Canada, edited by Chris Wozniak and Alan McHughen.  Resistance Is Fertile: Canadian Struggles on the BioCommons by Wilhelm Peekhaus specifically addresses regulatory issues related to governmental agricultural biotechnology efforts in Canada.

Readers seeking general books about the politics of regulating agricultural biotechnology should consult Jack Kloppenburg’s First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology and The Intended and Unintended Effects of U.S. Agricultural and Biotechnology Policies, edited by Joshua Graff Zivin and Jeffrey Perloff.  These books provide a good understanding of the total economic costs of agricultural biotechnology, taking into account the negative issues that reduce industry growth and profitability.  Regulating Next Generation Agri-Food Biotechnologies, edited by Michael Howlett and David Laycock, provides a good discussion of future trends in agricultural biotechnology regulation in Europe, North America, and Asia.

Works Cited