Patents, Genetically Modified Food, and IP Overreaching
Genetically engineered plants and animals have become a large part of the food we consume. The United States is the world’s largest producer of genetically modified foods, making American consumers the most exposed population to these products. Patent law is one of the main contributors to this phenomenon that has affected not only the kinds of food we eat but also the nature of the agribusiness industry that produces these foods. Ultimately, agricultural biotechnology patents permit the handful of companies that own the patented technologies to determine what will end up on consumers’ plates. The patenting of food has led to concerns about the effects on individual farmers around the world. This issue has been thoroughly explored by other commentators and will not be addressed here. This Article, however, will take on another area of concern that has remained unexplored-the effect of these patents on independent research and scientific inquiry. There is currently a void in the scientific knowledge relating to the effects of genetically modified foods on human health and the environment. Patent law perpetuates that void by allowing patent holders to control and restrict independent research in the area. This is facilitated mostly through no-research clauses in license agreements with farmers. This further exacerbates the problem of incomplete information about genetically modified foods and may ultimately threaten public health and safety.