March 29, 2013

What Do We Need to Know about the “Monsanto Protection” Rider?

Yesterday, I read and edited Kevin Macku’s article on the recent HR 933 legislation and was saddened but eager to get this information out to our readers. Today, post some negative responses, including one from Waylon Lewis, I decided to dig in a little deeper and read the bill for myself. Here is what I learned:

What does the passing of signed a spending billHR 933, mean for us as concerned consumers?

I decided I’d sit and read the bill before I wrote this up. It’s hefty, I’ll admit, but part of our responsibility as an informed electorate is not just to vote, but to keep careful watch on the choices our public servants make.

After reading the bill, and reading a few articles reporting on the subject, it is my belief that our best interests have not been served by this legislation.

1. Section 735 of HR 933, titled the “Farmer Assurance Provision” and often referred to as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” by its opponents, grants temporary deregulation status of GMOs.

“Sec. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.”

In effect, the government is now barred from preventing the sale or planting of any genetically modified or genetically engineered seeds. The deregulation is temporary and lasts through September 2013. Though it is named as something as a protection for farmers, it has very little impact on individual farmers, as current regulations do not allow for farmers’ crops of GE plants to be destroyed, even when found to be in violation of USDA standards. This rider protects the creators and distributors of genetically engineered seeds, far more than the farmers themselves.

To reiterate, even if tomorrow we were to discover that the genetically engineered products had harmful effects, nothing can be done to stop the distribution or planting, or hold the companies in question responsible for those effects.

2. The language used in this rider was drafted by Monsanto and Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.

While initially that might seem shocking, it is fairly standard for relevant industry experts and organizations to be involved in assisting with drafting the language used for legislation. In this instance, however, it is cause for concern when the company in question has the most to gain from the passing of this bill. Also noteworthy, Monsanto is the largest contributor to Roy Blunt’s campaign.

Not all of our senators believe that this type of provision is a good thing. In fact, according to New York Daily News:

Opposing the inclusion of the rider was Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), who told Politico that the deal worked out with Monsanto was simply bad policy. “These provisions are giveaways, pure and simple, and will be a boon worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country,” Tester said.

 3. Not only does the six-month deregulation benefit Monsanto in the short run, but it prevents them from being prosecuted by federal courts, even if health risks from GMOs are discovered in the future.

To put this another way, imagine that a product that the rest of the civilized world has already deemed a potential health risk was deregulated and allowed for a six-month period of time. We have chosen to deliberately limit our government’s ability to hold the makers and distributors of these products accountable should health or environmental risks arise. This, to me, is the biggest concern with this rider. Neither the Secretary of Agriculture nor the USDA, nor the federal courts system has any recourse should problems arise due to the deregulation of these genetically engineered seeds and plants.

{The Plant Protection Act referred to sheds more light on exactly what can and cannot be addressed during the deregulation period. Thanks Paul!}

 4. Despite organized and vocal opposition from his constituents, President Obama signed this bill into law on Tuesday.

One of the beautiful things about our system of government is that no one holds all the keys. Yes, legislation must pass through both houses. Yes, there are a multitude of people involved in the construction of even the simplest bill. Obama does not have the power of line item veto, which is unfortunate in situations such as this.

But the fact remains that the end line for a bill to become federal law is the president’s signature.

While Congress can deny funding to an executive order, no act passed by Congress is valid without the president’s consent. It is easy as private citizens to pick and choose the issues that matter most to us. I do not envy the president’s position of having this rider tacked on to such important legislation. The fact remains that we have trusted him to have the final say on accepting or rejecting the bills that come before him, and many of us feel that he made a choice that does not represent us.

“More than 250,000 voters signed a petition opposing the provision. And Food Democracy Now protesters even took their fight straight to Obama, protesting in front of the White House against Section 735 of the bill. He signed it anyway.”

We should also take time to see how our representatives in Congress voted. Obama may not be eligible for a third term, but if you are unhappy with how you were represented here, take note.

5. Most importantly, we should realize that this is not the end of the line on this issue, even though a dangerous precedent has been set by this legislation.

If this matters to you, be heard.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead


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