June 13, 2017

A genome editing revolution of unprecedented magnitude— spearheaded by a scientific breakthrough called CRISPR—is underway. This powerful technology has enabled scientists to precisely edit genes and is challenging long-held conventions of how humans view life. The incipient power to control and alter the genetic destiny of living organisms, including plants and animals intended for human consumption, raises complex legal issues that our legal system will soon be forced to address. Against a backdrop of limited natural resources to meet demands for global food security and fervid opposition to genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”) by many groups worldwide, the future of genetically modified (“GM”) crops developed using CRISPR technologies is uncertain.
This Article explores the legal status of genome-edited crops. It provides a succinct resource that aims to dissect, demystify, and render primary scientific literature on GMOs accessible to law and policy makers. The Article also examines the intricacies and limitations associated with the current regulatory scheme under the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, and how it discriminates among GM products on the basis of risk and process depending on the method through which the products are derived. The Article analyzes the dissonance in the current regulatory framework governing GMOs and argues that, in the near future, it will likely be increasingly difficult to make meaningful and enforceable regulatory distinctions between genome-edited and naturally occurring crops. Lastly, the Article identifies several obstacles to developing scientific-based public policy in the realm of GMOs and proposes a set of policy recommendations to facilitate the rational regulation of genome- edited crops.