Hidden inside a short-term congressional resolution that averts a government shutdown is an alarming rider that protects genetically modified seeds from lawsuits in the event of potential health risks.
Last week, the House of Representatives voted 318-109 to accept the Senate's amendments to HR 933, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, a resolution that approves short-term funding of the federal government through the end of the fiscal year. President Barack Obama signed the measure on Tuesday, avoiding a government shutdown which would have occurred on March 27 when the current funding runs out.
But tucked away inside HR 933 is section 735, officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, a biotech rider that critics have dubbed the 'Monsanto Protection Act.' According to the Austin Chronicle, the provision "essentially deregulates genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by allowing the US Department of Agriculture to override judicial rulings and grant temporary permits for conventional farmers to plant and grow genetically modified crops while pending review."
The New York Daily Newsreports that the measure limits the ability of judges to stop corporations or farmers who purchase their genetically modified seeds from either growing or harvesting their crops even if courts find evidence of health risks from consuming them.
Although the rider will only remain in effect for six months, critics claim that it sets a troubling precedent.
"This dangerous provision... strips judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer and farmer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, citizens and the environment," the group Food Democracy Now!, which led efforts to strike the Farmer Assurance Provision from the Agricultural Appropriations bill, wrote on its website.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who worked with Monsanto to draft the bill, defended the measure.
"What it says is if you plant a crop that is legal to plant when you plant it, you get to harvest it," Blunt told Politico.
But Sen. John Tester (D-MT), who opposes the measure, called the rider a form of corporate welfare.
"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 told Politico.
Particularly alarming to opponents of the measure is the way in which it was anonymously introduced as the larger bill progressed through the Senate Appropriations Committee. RT reports that groups such as the Center For Food Safety are accusing lawmakers of making a "back room deal" with the biotech industry, accusations that appear credible considering Sen. Blunt's admission that he worked with Monsanto to write the legislation.
The Washington Timeslinks the passage of the 'Monsanto Protection Act' to vigorous lobbying by the biotech and agribusiness industry and to generous campaign donations made by corporations and political action committees (PACs) to members of Congress. According to MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals the influence of money on politics, PACs that support GMO crops have donated $7.5 million to current members of Congress since 2009, $372,000 to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and $71,000 to Sen. Blunt, the second-highest amount received by any senator.
Among the most prominent donors are: American Crystal Sugar, Monsanto, Syngenta Corp., Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Minn-Dak Farmers Coop, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Coop, National Cotton Council and the American Farm Bureau.
Monsanto and other corporations and lobby groups also spent more than $45 million in a successful effort to defeat Proposition 37, an initially popular California ballot initiative that would have required the labeling of many GMO foods.
In 2009, President Obama appointed former Monsanto Vice President for Public Policy Michael R. Taylor as Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Agricultural Negotiator Trade Representative Islam Siddiqui, a pesticide-pushing executive from the powerful lobbying group CropLife, which according to Mother Jonesadvocated permitting pesticide testing on children, is a former Monsanto lobbyist. Lidia Watrud of the EPA and Roger Bleachy of the USDA are both also former Monsanto employees. And while Obama's pick to head the USDA, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, never worked for Monsanto, he is a staunch supporter of GMOs and cloning. The Organic Consumers Association called Vilsack a "shill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto."