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The Introduction of Biotech Foods to the Tort System: Creating a New Duty to Identify

61 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2008 Last revised: 6 Nov 2012

Katharine A. Van Tassel

University of Akron, School of Law

Date Written: 2004


Over sixty percent of the food on grocery store shelves contain bioengineered ingredients. Most consumers are unaware of their heavy exposure to these novel substances as food processors in the United States are not required to identify biotech ingredients on food labels. In spite of the FDA's reassurances that biotech food (also referred to as genetically modified food or "GM food") is safe for human consumption, scientists from around the world warn that the risk of harmful allergic or toxic reactions to these novel substances cannot be discounted. This Article examines whether an unsuspecting consumer who is injured or dies from an allergic or toxic reaction to an undisclosed bioengineered ingredient lurking in food can recover damages through the tort system. The surprising answer is that recovery is unlikely. This is because food processors enjoy an immunity from tort liability which has been unintentionally created by the coupling of the current food regulatory system with current food product liability law. This Article supplies a unique summary of the food regulatory system as it interfaces with current food product liability law, provides a detailed explanation of how these two systems work together to create tort immunity for harm from biotech food, then outlines and evaluates the merits of several potential solutions to this problem.

Keywords: genetically modified food, bioengineered food, genetically engineered food, food tort liability, food allerginicity, bioengineering

Suggested Citation

Van Tassel, Katharine A., The Introduction of Biotech Foods to the Tort System: Creating a New Duty to Identify (2004). University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 72, p. 1645, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Katharine Van Tassel (Contact Author)

University of Akron, School of Law ( email )

150 University Ave.
Akron, OH 44325-2901
United States

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