Just Label it: Consumer Rights, GM Food Labelling, and International Trade
Charles Lawson and Berris Charnley (ed.), Intellectual Property and Genetically Modified Organisms: A Convergence in Laws, Farnham (Surrey): Ashgate Publishing, March 2015, 143-184.
Posted: 15 Apr 2015
Date Written: April 14, 2015
In the United States, there has been fierce debate over state, federal and international efforts to engage in genetically modified food labelling (GM food labelling).
A grassroots coalition of consumers, environmentalists, organic farmers, and the food movement has pushed for law reform in respect of GM food labelling. The Just Label It campaign has encouraged United States consumers to send comments to the United States Food and Drug Administration to label genetically modified foods.
This Chapter explores the various justifications made in respect of genetically modified food labelling. There has been a considerable effort to portray the issue of GM food labelling as one of consumer rights as part of ‘the right to know’. There has been a significant battle amongst farmers over GM food labelling – with organic farmers and biotechnology companies, fighting for precedence. There has also been a significant discussion about the use of GM food labelling as a form of environmental legislation. The prescriptions in GM food labelling regulations may serve to promote eco-labelling, and deter greenwashing. There has been a significant debate over whether GM food labelling may serve to regulate corporations – particularly from the food, agriculture, and biotechnology industries. There are significant issues about the interaction between intellectual property laws – particularly in respect of trade mark law and consumer protection – and regulatory proposals focused upon biotechnology. There has been a lack of international harmonization in respect of GM food labelling. As such, there has been a major use of comparative arguments about regulator models in respect of food labelling. There has also been a discussion about international law, particularly with the emergence of sweeping regional trade proposals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
This Chapter considers the United States debates over genetically modified food labelling – at state, federal, and international levels. The battles often involved the use of citizen-initiated referenda. The policy conflicts have been policy-centric disputes – pitting organic farmers, consumers, and environmentalists against the food industry and biotechnology industry. Such battles have raised questions about consumer rights, public health, freedom of speech, and corporate rights. The disputes highlighted larger issues about lobbying, fund-raising, and political influence. The role of money in United States has been a prominent concern of Lawrence Lessig in his recent academic and policy work with the group, Rootstrikers. Part 1 considers the debate in California over Proposition 37. Part 2 explores other key state initiatives in respect of GM food labelling. Part 3 examines the Federal debate in the United States over GM food labelling. Part 4 explores whether regional trade agreements – such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – will impact upon initiatives in respect of genetically modified food labelling.
Keywords: Proposition 37, GM Food Labelling, California, Vermont, Eco-Labels, Intellectual Property, Biotechnology, GMOs, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation