What is in this article?:
- Behind the Monsanto Protection Act
- How much damage can happen in six months?
Organic Connections, the magazine of Natural Vitality, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Monsanto Protection Act.
Recently an event occurred that has had food activists howling from the rooftops: legislation was covertly written into the six-month government spending bill that enables Monsanto and other biotech companies to bypass any court-ordered stoppage on planting of GMO crops. While this is certainly a coup for the biotech industry, it is fortunately only a very temporary coup and is likely to cause little overall damage to agriculture.
“The Monsanto Protection Act, as it has been dubbed by many, was a backdoor policy rider that was included in a recently passed government spending bill called the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013,” Colin O’Neil, Director of Government Affairs for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), told Organic Connections.“It is in essence corporate welfare that seeks to undermine federal enforcement for safeguarding farmers and the environment from unlawfully approved and potentially hazardous genetically engineered crops.”
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What it means
The rider comes into effect if, during the six months the bill is in force, a federal court strikes down a USDA approval of a genetically modified crop and places an injunction against planting of the crop. If, after such an action, the USDA is petitioned by anyone in the biotech industry, the USDA “shall immediately” (exact language used) approve permits for planting or issue a partial deregulation. “Essentially what this does is lift the cap that federal courts have put in place to prevent any damages from occurring while the USDA is conducting a court-ordered review,” O’Neil explained.
“For the past half dozen years reports from the Government Accountability Office, the Inspector General within the USDA, the National Academy of Sciences, as well as federal courts have sharply criticized USDA approvals of genetically engineered crops for failing to adequately review their environmental impacts,” O’Neil added. “Courts also criticize their lack of review of the economic impacts—namely the cross-contamination of organic or conventional crops through pollen drift or seed dispersal. So, federal courts have struck down a number of genetically engineered crop approvals by the USDA as unlawful.” This rider is a way for biotech companies to bypass such rulings.
Snuck into the Bill—by whom?
The rider, very quietly added to the spending bill, came as a complete surprise to CFS and other food advocacy groups. “It was snuck in there,” said O’Neil. “For many days during the peak of the turmoil about the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ no one was even accepting that it was their doing; this was in the bill and no one knew how it got there. Slowly news began trickling out, and eventually we found out that the two ringleaders behind it were Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri—Monsanto’s home state—and then also the late Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii, who was the previous chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The two of them were really the ringleaders of getting this into the bill. It’s important to note that the provision itself actually originated on the House side in an Agricultural Appropriations Bill a year ago, but that bill never made it to the floor; we didn’t really see that provision come back to life until it was included in the recently passed spending bill.”
Immediately upon discovering the hidden rider, CFS sprang into action. “CFS very quickly organized over a hundred organizations and businesses,” O’Neil related. “We sent a joint letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee—as well as to the relevant subcommittees—to express our opposition.
“We worked very closely with a number of grassroots organizations, including our own membership of over 300,000 people. Many groups engaged their members and their grassroots networks to call and e-mail their members of Congress as well as to get the news out.”
Despite a proposed amendment to the bill from Senator John Tester that would have stripped the rider from the bill, the bill passed with the rider intact. Nevertheless, the actions of CFS have already had a positive effect.
“As a result of all the grassroots action, shortly after the bill passed, Senator Barbara Mikulski issued a statement saying that she opposed the provision,” O’Neil continued. “She said that she would be working with the Agriculture Subcommittee to ensure that this provision is not included in any future bills, as the provision is only law for the six-month period of this spending bill.”