By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Despite opposition from food groups and a petition on MoveOn.org signed by nearly 208,000 citizens, the piece of legislation known as the “Monsanto rider” passed as part of the temporary federal budget approved by Congress yesterday. It was also informally dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act”.
We bet you’re wondering what Monsanto needs protection from.
Apparently, the giant Biotech firm fears that people will file lawsuits against it, asking for assurances that its genetically engineered seeds are safe. This could hold up Monsanto’s plans to sell new GE seeds and crops.
So Monsanto, which spends millions lobbying in Washington, is like the elephant afraid of the mouse. It can usually throw its weight around to good effect. But occasionally, the mouse (that’s us) does something scary. The Monsanto rider essentially squashes the mouse.
You might also wonder how this special rider got into the budget bill. Awhile back, last year even, it jumped aboard, like a flea. You couldn’t even see where it came from. But it will have an outsized effect. It’s set up to stop the USDA, the regulatory department assigned to oversee Big Ag and Biotech companies, from withholding approval for new seeds and crops produced by Monsanto and other big biotech firms.
Pass the rider and voile! Pesky persons or groups that might challenge the safety of Monsanto’s products with annoying lawsuits are swept aside.
Now everyone’s happy. Monsanto. People running for Congress who need campaign money from biotech firms. The USDA (hey less to do).
Well, not everyone’s happy. Food & Water Watch, and a clutch of other environmental, farm and food groups that want oversight of biotech firms are a little upset.
They think the rider tramples on public safety.
“Though wrapped in a “farmer-friendly” package, the biotech rider is simply an industry ploy to continue to plant GMO crops even when a court of law has found they were approved illegally,” said Farm and Ranch Freedom in a statement today.
“. . . If a GMO crop approval was shown to violate the law and require further analysis of its harmful impacts (as several courts have concluded in recent years, for example with GMO alfalfa and GMO sugar beets) this provision would override any court-mandated caution and allow continued planting and commercialization while further review takes place.”
In other words, Monsanto gets a pass.
Food & Water Watch sees it the same way, saying in a statement today, “The provision undermines USDA’s oversight of GE crops and unnecessarily interferes with the judicial review process.”
FWW complained that the Senate, in its haste to push through the budget bill, known as the Continuing Resolution, did not even vote on a measure by farm-supporter Sen. Jon Tester that would have removed the offending Monsanto rider (and another rider that stripped market protections for small livestock producers).
The group blamed Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) for not allowing the Senate to vote on Tester’s amendment, saying they “abdicated their responsibility,” forcing the Senate to “accept a deeply flawed proposal.”
The Continuing Resolution was considered an emergency measure, and will keep the government funded through September.
Another person who was deeply disappointed by the seeming smooth advancement of the Monsanto rider was Robert Shepherd. He had started a citizens’ petition against the Monsanto Riders at MoveOn’s SignOn.org.
Nearly 208,000 people signed Shepherd’s petition, smelling a rat in this slippery move in Washington D.C. to help Monsanto, and companies like it, avoid oversight.
The petition noted that the riders would not just allow “but require” the USDA to “grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed.”
Any farmer or biotech firm could simply ask for the temporary permit, the petition noted.
Funny thing, Shepherd isn’t even an organic farmer or professional environmental advocate. He’s just a guy who’s horrified that our food system is falling under the control of corporate giants, and thinks the Monsanto rider isn’t constitutional.
Yesterday, when the Continuing Resolution passed, he wrote to President Barack Obama, who still needs to sign the CR.
Dear Mr. President,
My name is Robert Shepherd. I’m writing today because this morning at 10:54 AM EST, Congress passed the Continuing Resolution, HR 933 which contains the dangerous provision, (Section 735) which strips the important concept of “judicial review” away from our courts, over Monsanto. Section 735 strikes a major blow against America’s constitution, citizens, farmers and the environment while undermining our basic democratic rights in favor of corporate welfare and adds to an already failed oversight of GMO crops.
Could Thomas Jefferson have said it any better?
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