Is Anyone Regulating? The Curious State of GMO Governance in the United States

37 Vermont Law Review (2013) (Forthcoming)

34 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2013

See all articles by Rebecca M. Bratspies

Rebecca M. Bratspies

City University of New York - School of Law

Date Written: May 12, 2013


The promise of biotechnology has been tantalizingly just beyond reach for a number of years. Biotechnology is often touted as a means of increasing agricultural production, improving sustainability, and offering more nutritious food to the public. Promises of increased yield — more food for a hungry world and more profit for struggling farmers — are dangled alongside claims that biotechnology crops result in decreased pesticide use and lower environmental impacts. Yet to date, the United States experience has not borne out those claims. Crop yields have remained flat or declined. At the same time, the United States has reaped a harvest of environmental and economic harms flowing from uncontrolled planting of GE crops, including: contamination of conventional and organic crops; an explosion of herbicide-resistant weeds; and a massive overall increase in herbicide use.

This paper makes the case that even if we assume that agricultural biotechnology can actually live up to a portion of the extravagant claims made by its backers, these public advantages will only be realized with a comprehensive and scientifically rigorous regulatory system that ensures environmental and human health issues are addressed in a transparent and credible fashion. To our detriment, we currently do not have such a system. This paper highlights how, in the absence of a comprehensive regulatory system, critical substantive risks associated with these crops (most notably cumulative impacts) have escaped regulatory scrutiny. The end result is that private actors, motivated by short-term interests, are able to engage in conduct that imposes risks on wider society without any democratic consideration of the acceptability of those risks.

Keywords: biotechnology, genetic modification, Bt alfalfa, Roundup Ready sugar beets, democratic decisionmaking, regulation, uncertainty, science, food insecurity

JEL Classification: H1, H4, K23, K32, N50, Q18

Suggested Citation

Bratspies, Rebecca M., Is Anyone Regulating? The Curious State of GMO Governance in the United States (May 12, 2013). 37 Vermont Law Review (2013) (Forthcoming). Available at SSRN:

Rebecca M. Bratspies (Contact Author)

City University of New York - School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

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