The Sweet and Sour in Genetically Modified Food Policy

Organic and conventional seed farmers are concerned that genetically modified (GM) crops will cross-pollinate with their non-GM crops and produce hybrid crops that they will not be able to sell on the market. Thus, these non-GM famers want a complete ban on the planting of GM crops. However, the Supreme Court maintained that a partial deregulation of GM alfalfa seed planting would be proper instead of a complete ban, and sufficient regulations themselves would virtually eliminate the possibility of unwanted contamination.

Federal courts now face a similar decision regarding sugar beets, a biennial, major crop in the U.S. that is the source of half of the nation’s sugar. In considering the regulations for GM crops, courts should understand the fears of the non-GM crop farmers, but also allow GM crops farmers to harvest their crops so long as they do not pose a threat to the environment. In the case of sugar beets, they do not, and a ban on this GM food could have drastic economic ramifications.

Last year, the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California sided with the non-GM farmers and re-regulated the planting of GM sugar beets. This was a major setback for GM farmers because they were no longer allowed to harvest their crops. The court’s ban concerning sugar beets virtually wiped out over half of the nation’s sugar source for the upcoming harvest season. The choice to ban the planting of these crops had major consequences for the GM farmers, and in the case of sugar beets, could even have drastic economic ramifications, as half of the supply of sugar in America comes from sugar beets, and half of those sugar beets are genetically modified.  With less sugar to go around, the price of sugar will most likely increase over the course of the next year. 

Potential scientific studies concerning different GM crops would help courts decide whether there is even a significant risk of cross-pollination for a particular crop.  And the court could consider various precautionary measures, such as increasing the distance between the crops or mandating that GM crops only be grown in remote areas, do decrease any risks.

As research continues and complete genetic mapping of different plant organisms become available, it is important to remember that there will be proponents and opponents of the resulting GM plants because there are disadvantages and advantages to this biotechnology. But before courts ban the planting of future GM crops, it is important to take into account the risk of cross contamination. As long as these GM crops do not pose a risk to the environment, partial deregulations of these crops are the best way to balance the interests of GM farmers with those of non-GM crop farmers.

Photo Credit: Aquafornia

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Whitney Waters

Whitney Waters graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in May 2012, and is a member of the Kentucky Bar. She has a B.S. in Agricultural Biotechnology and a B.S. in Journalism. Her areas of interest include intellectual property, foreign, environmental, and social policy. She is currently a Intellectual Property Masters of Law candidate at The George Washington University and Presidential Management Fellow.

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