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Growing Trends in Agricultural Law, From GMOs to Totally Organic

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

You don't have to be a major foodie to know that American food and agriculture has been undergoing some significant changes recently -- and we're not just talking about the demand for gluten-free everything.

There's such a strong demand for organic crops these days that major food brands are paying conventional growers to make the shift. At the same time, developments in genetic modification are allowing some farmers to take a much more high-tech approach to their produce. And these shifts are driving major changes in agricultural law, in everything from labeling regulations to genetic and chemical drift.

When GMOs and Organics Collide

Imagine your client is an organic farmer in California's Central Valley, focused on growing high-value, organic, and heritage produce for boutique retailers and restaurants, down on Blackacre Farms. Not far from that land, more conventional farms grow similar crops, using both genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Should pesticides or GMO pollen "drift" into Blackacre, contaminating the crops, can the food still be labeled organic? Could the grower be liable for patent infringement for growing GMO crops?

These are the types of questions that are becoming increasingly common in agriculture and the law. GMO products are patent protected, leading to risks that cross-contamination could lead to accusations of patent infringement or, more realistically, that organic farmers could seek damages stemming from the fugitive pollen or pesticides.

Much more likely, however, are issues about marketing and labeling. There are no federal regulations specific to GMOs, but the Organic Food Product Act and National Organic Program create the legal, federal framework for organic growers. Under those laws, unwanted drift could result in crops being rendered nonorganic, with producers losing the ability to marketing them as such. And while there are no GMO-specific federal label regulations, some states have started to make inroads into GMO labeling, while a host of international regulations apply to produce that's shipped cross-border.

Genetic and chemical drift is just one of many potential legal issues affecting agriculture today. There are a host of FDA regulations for safety, legal questions over "natural" produce, and growing conflicts between federal laws and local, state, and international GMO regulations.

Of course, you don't have to be at the forefront of agroscience and FDA regulations to stay ahead of the legal curve. Resources like Aspatore's "Trends in Agriculture: GMOs and Organics," are invaluable resources for agricultural, regulatory, and environmental attorneys. (Disclosure: Aspatore is FindLaw's sister company.) Part of the "Inside the Minds" series, "Trends in Agriculture: GMOs and Organics," brings together expert attorneys to explain developments in agricultural law.

For attorneys in the field, it has almost everything you need, covering basic concepts such as the difference between organics and GMOs and the role of beneficial insects, to complicated questions about developments in GMO regulation internationally and legal advances to come. It's just what you need to get your agricultural practice growing.

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