William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review
Feeding the World: How Changes in Biotech Regulation Can Jump-Start the Second Green Revolution and Diversify the Agricultural Industry
As the Earth’s population climbs from 7.7 billion in 2019 to almost 10 billion by mid-century, farmers will need to increase food production by 70 percent. This Article analyzes the tools available to achieve this demanding goal. We assess changes in agriculture related to both the organic industry and the high-tech sector that are enabling farmers to become more efficient. Critically, biotechnology offers great promise to hasten the pace of increased agricultural efficiency through genetic engineering. While genetic modification has been controversial, we cannot exclude any viable policy option, especially one with so much promise. Yet the current regulatory environment impedes bringing to market new foods produced through biotechnology and acts as a barrier to diversity for both products and producers.
Our argument is straightforward: in a world of risk versus promise, the regulation of biotechnology must be correlated with the level of risk. We advocate for a system of regulation of crops based on risk—one that is tied to the product itself, not the process that created it. The complicated, expensive, and time-consuming process currently imposed on bringing genetically engineered crops to market is divorced from the potential risks these crops actually pose. We specifically suggest adopting a single-entry point to the regulatory system, creating a registry of genetically engineered products to avoid the public perception issues that genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”) have faced to date, and shifting regulatory triggers to better associate the regulatory burden with the actual risks being put forth. Proposals by the Trump Administration in June 2019 may move regulation in the direction we have suggested, but these proposed rules present other issues. A second Green Revolution that embraces the most promising available technology can help free the future of agriculture from the control of dominant agrochemical companies and help feed the world.