Regulating Evolution for Sale: An Evolutionary Biology Model for Regulating the Unnatural Selection of Genetically Modified Organisms

74 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2010

See all articles by Mary Jane Angelo

Mary Jane Angelo

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: 2007


In the past ten years there has been an explosion in the genetic manipulation of living organisms to create commercial products. This genetic manipulation has, in effect, been a directed change in the evolutionary process for the purpose of profit. This deliberate alteration of the path of evolution has brought with it a panoply of novel environmental, human health, and economic risks that could not have been foreseen when U.S. environmental and health protection laws evolved. Many products of genetic engineering have been modified to possess traits that increase their ability to reproduce and survive in the environment. By genetically manipulating microorganisms, plants, and animals to make them more “fit” from an evolutionary standpoint, science has altered the path of evolution to favor not those organisms that have evolved to be more fit for their natural environment, but instead those organisms that have become more fit at the hand of humans for commercialization and profit-making. U.S. environmental law has not evolved to keep pace with these dramatic changes in the evolution of biological systems and has been constrained by outdated policies adopted in the 1980s. Accordingly, the law governing GMOs has emerged as a piecemeal patchwork of regulations implemented by three federal agencies plagued by interagency turf battles, bureaucratic inertia, and conflicting regulatory standards.

The thesis of this Article is that a new legal approach, which draws on principles of evolutionary biology, is needed to address the novel risks of environmental harms caused by man’s intervention in, and manipulation of, evolution through the development of GMOs. This Article is the first to analyze the complete array of U.S. regulatory programs addressing GMOs and the adequacy of these programs to address the novel elements of risk posed by GMOs. Moreover, this Article is the first ever to propose a new approach to regulation of GMOs utilizing principles drawn from evolutionary biology theory. By applying evolutionary biology theory to the regulation of GMOs, this Article provides a comprehensive legal framework for determining which GMOs should be permitted to be released into the environment under what conditions. This approach has the potential to revolutionize environmental law as it relates to GMOs, as well as to other artificially cultivated living organisms.

Suggested Citation

Angelo, Mary Jane, Regulating Evolution for Sale: An Evolutionary Biology Model for Regulating the Unnatural Selection of Genetically Modified Organisms (2007). Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 42, No. 93, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Mary Jane Angelo (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0944 (Phone)
352-392-3005 (Fax)

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