A NEW AGE OF EVOLUTION: PROTECTING THE CONSUMER'S MORAL AND LEGAL RIGHT TO KNOW THROUGH THE CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT LABELING OF ALL GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS.

AuthorEvans, Halie M.
  1. INTRODUCTION 1 II. BACKGROUND 6 A. A New Age of Evolution 7 B. Creating and Testing GM Foods in the United States 7 C. The FDA and Food Safety 10 D. The History of Labeling Food in America 11 E. Previous Proposed Legislation 13 F. GM Food Regulation Abroad 15 1. The European Union 16 2. Australia 18 III. ANALYSIS 20 A. Proposed Legislation 20 B. Criticisms of mandating the labeling of GMOs 21 C. Human Health and GMOs 22 1. Pesticides, Human Health, and GMOs 23 2. Allergies and GMOs 24 D. Environmental Concerns and GMOs 24 E. Religious Concerns and GMOs 26 IV. CONCLUSION 28 I. INTRODUCTION

    When you have a chance, randomly choose a few items out of your pantry or fridge that contain labels with ingredient sections. Take a brief moment to look over the ingredients to see how many contain one or more of the following: sugar, soy, (1) vegetable oil, canola, or corn. (2) Did you find at least one of those ingredients in each of your labels? More than likely your answer is 'yes.' This is because these items make up the building blocks of the processed food products many of us enjoy today. (3) While this list does not encompass all of the ingredients that contain genetically modified (GM) organisms it does contain the most prevalent genetically modified crops. (4) Genetic engineering is a molecular biology process that manipulates an organism's genes by introducing, eliminating, or rearranging specific genes within an organism. (5) By tweaking the DNA of an organism, genetic engineering changes the type or amount of proteins an organism is capable of producing, which enables the organism to create new substances or perform new functions. (6)

    Now, going back to your randomly selected food products, look to see if anywhere on that same label there is a disclaimer stating that these specific ingredients contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Do you see one? Probably not. This does not mean, however, that genetically modified organisms are not in your food. Actually, they are in every one of the items listed above. The United States government, until recently, did not require the labeling of genetically modified organisms. (7) On July 29, 2016 President Barack Obama signed into law the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) (8). This law directs the USDA to create regulations that require manufacturers to disclose certain bioengineered products on food labels. (9) On December 20, 2018 the USDA released the final regulations for the NBFDS, which requires food manufactures, importers, and certain retailers to ensure bioengineered foods are appropriately disclosed. (10) The final regulations include provisions which will leave the majority of GMO derived foods unlabeled. (11) The final regulations also restrict approximately 100 million Americans from accessing GMO information by allowing QR codes to replace clear and transparent labeling, an issue that will be discussed in further detail later in this Note. (12) This Note explores why you, as a consumer may want to know whether your food contains GM products, and furthermore, why you as a consumer have a moral (13), and legal right to know (14).

    In 1972, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen ushered in a new age of biotechnology when they developed a technique that allowed them to splice and attach DNA molecules from one species to another. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, genetic engineering grew within the international community, with scientists genetically engineering plants (e.g., tobacco), medicine (e.g., insulin (15) ), and animals (e.g., mice). In 1990, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first genetically modified food, an enzyme used in cheese production. (16) This approval by the FDA was the first time that the federal government approved the use of a genetically modified organism within the consumer market. (17) A study by Rutgers University in 2003 determined that between 60% and 70% of processed food on American shelves include GM crops. (18) This number continues to rise as more GM crops are planted in the U.S. (19)

    From the onset, food producers' primary purpose for genetically engineering crops was to increase crop yield by increasing resistance to pesticides, in particular, glyphosate. (20) Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, which means that it will kill most plants it comes into contact with. (21) Monsanto in particular, hired chemists in the 1970s to insert spliced genetic material from the glyphosate molecule into various plants, including soybeans, canola, cotton, corn, sugar beets, and alfalfa. (22) These glyphosate tolerant crops have come to be known as "Roundup Ready" crops because of their tolerance to Monsanto's herbicide by the same name (Roundup Ready). (23) Early supporters of GM crops promoted genetic engineering on the premise that crops derived from genetically modified organisms would require much less pesticide use. (24) Although a decrease in pesticide use accompanied the early years of genetically modified crops, this pattern quickly changed. (25) Insects and unwanted vegetation began to adapt to the heavy herbicide and pesticide use, creating a new species of "super-bugs" and "super-weeds" that required much more herbicide and pesticide use to ward off. (26) Instead of lowering pesticide use, genetically modified organisms have encouraged a steady increase in pesticide and herbicide use. (27) Studies that trace unnatural toxicity levels in humans back to genetically modified organisms are also on the rise across the globe. (28) The close relationship between genetically modified crops, high toxicity levels, and human and environmental health may be one reason why many citizens favor the labeling of GMOs. (29)

    Labeling food products that contain genetically modified organisms has been a highly contested issue in the United States and abroad, with 65 countries currently requiring the labeling of genetically modified ingredients. (30) Currently in the United States, the labeling of genetically modified ingredients is only required for a limited amount of GM products, through the use of a QR Code. (31) Most scientists in the United States believe that GM products are no different than their conventional counterparts, which is why there are multiple exemptions in the current GM labeling regulations. (32) In a field where no credible, independent long-term studies exist, many opponents of GM crops argue that more objective, standardized testing needs to be carried out before this assumption can be made. (33) Proponents of labeling often wonder, if these products are safe, why is there such an opposition to labeling them?

    In this Note, the consumer's "right to know" is addressed as a moral and legal right. Moral rights are rights that have been agreed upon by a society and often stem from cultural norms that have been instilled over time. (34) They are often grounded in humanity because they are rights that all people deserve simply for being human. (35) An example of a moral right (also known as an ethics based right) would be the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In connection, many legal rights that we have in the United States flow from this right, such as the right to earn a living and enjoy the fruits of one's labor. Moral rights are directly connected to GM products because of environmental and ethical issues individuals have with genetic engineering. Issues such as soil depletion and potential bearings on biodiversity may impact the food choices of a faithful environmentalist. (36) The notion by some that the splicing of genes from one organism to another is "unnatural" may go against an individual's religious (or other ethical) principles. (37) The push from many consumers in the United States to label GM foods spans from an array of concerns and all support the moral right to know.

    On the other hand, legal rights are rights that people have under a legal system, granted by an authorized legal authority or government. For example, consumers have a legal right to know the basic ingredients and nutritional profile of packaged foods. Law and ethics are different because the law determines what a person must do, while ethics determines what a person should do. The former is collectively accepted while the latter is seen as ideal human conduct, agreed upon by most of the people. However, law and ethics are also intimately related to each other. Laws are generally based on the moral principles of society and both regulate the conduct of the individual in society. This Note proposes that clear and transparent labeling of food that contains GM products is a moral and legal right of consumers in the United States.

    Three U.S. Regulatory Agencies are responsible for the regulation of genetically engineered plants: The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) (38), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as well as the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, are the Federal laws governing food products that fall under FDA regulation. (39) This Note concludes that the FDA, rather than the USDA should be delegated the responsibility to promulgate a new GM labeling law that requires clear, transparent labeling for all products containing GMOs in order to support the consumer's moral and legal right to know.

    Section II of this Note contains five subsections that address the background of the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the history of labeling food in America. Section II(A), titled "A New Age in Evolution," addresses natural selection, selective breeding, and also contains a general description of a genetically modified organism. Section II(B), titled "Creating and Testing GM Foods in the United States," briefly explains how scientists create GMOs and what testing GMOs are subject to. Section II(C), titled "The FDA and Food Safety," explains why the U.S. government...

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