While these cases involve human food products, not animal feed, the potential for trickle-down impact on the feed and grain industry is clear. These type of claims, if successful, could expand to other types of food products, including meat. While this may have little practical effect on demand for GE feed and grain in the long run, a bigger impact may be felt in increased demand for record keeping, testing and segregation practices on feed and grain products as a whole, as companies attempt to insulate themselves from these types of lawsuits. Either way, this remains an issue to watch as we are seeing increased focus on a number of types of labeling and consumer fraud lawsuits in the food industry.
What is on the horizon?
USDA has adopted a stance of “co-existence” when it comes to GE crops, meaning that it believes it is possible for GE, non-GE and organic crops to coexist in today’s agricultural landscape. As we can see from just the few examples of ongoing litigation discussed above, not everyone agrees. It is likely we will continue to see increased litigation related to USDA’s deregulation decisions of GE crops, as well as newer legal arguments, such as that seen in the debate over what can be called “natural.” While there are calls for the EU to speed up the process for approval of GE plants, particularly in the seed industry, that appears unlikely to happen in the near future.
With the demand for food, fuels and medicines constantly increasing and biotech companies developing new plants resistant to environmental conditions, proponents of both conventional and GE seed are likely to have plenty of opportunities to challenge APHIS restrictions. As we’re seeing with the GE-related natural lawsuits, even after deregulation, the path is not necessarily free and clear for GE-plant products and those who produce and use them.
Attorneys John Mandler and Rhyddid Watkins are members of Faegre & Benson’s Food, Agriculture and Biofuels (FAB) industry group, working out of the Minneapolis, MN, office. Mandler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Watkins can be reached at email@example.com.