The Continuing Resolution spending bill, HR 933 (1), was the vehicle used to get a “biotech rider” passed. Dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act (Section 735), the bill was passed to avoid repercussions of the sequestration, irrespective of the rider.
The Monsanto Rider was one of several agriculture and food riders, but unlike its fellow riders, it has a devastating ripple effect for farmers whether or not they’re organic growers.
The rider prevents any legal action against Monsanto for its GMO seeds. Even if a court decides that Monsanto is legally responsible for side-effects or other legalities, the company can’t be bound by any court in the country. In other words, the giant corporation is above the law and every citizen in this country.
Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association Fight Back
According to a recent OSGATA (Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association) press release, “Essentially, the provision would create a precedent-setting limitation on judicial review while opening the door for quick release of new, untested genetically engineered crops- like the 13 GE crops queued up for approval”. (2)
In other words, Monsanto is able to circumvent laws regulating seeds and crops. The OSGATA urged all Americans to “come together and continue to take action”. More determined than ever to rein in Monsanto’s GMO rampage, OSGATA, “electronically delivered more than 200,000 comments to the White House demonstrating the American people’s uproar against the Monsanto Protection Act”. (2)
OSGATA founders, Dave Murphy and Lisa Stokke hand-delivered the signatures, but even this didn’t result in a Presidential veto.
It isn’t surprising that sometimes the right hand of government knows not what the left hand has already done. This is the case according to a statement issued by the bill chairman, after the outcry of anger when the bill was passed and signed by President Obama.
The bill chair, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, was quick to issue a statement on March 29, 2013, which read in part that the Senator was unaware of the rider even though she was responsible for preparing the bill being put before the Senate for a vote.
Her official statement read:
“It [the rider] was originally part of the Agriculture Appropriations bill that the House Appropriations Committee reported in June 2012, and it became part of the joint House-Senate agreement completed in the Fall of 2012 before Senator Mikulski became Appropriations Chairwoman.
That agreement was not reopened when the Agriculture bill and several others were included in the Continuing Appropriations Act to prevent a government shutdown.” (3)
Ongoing Battle with Monsanto
This is just one more skirmish in a long-running battle between OSGATA and Monsanto. In March 2011, organic farmers and seed sellers sued Monsanto.
The OSGATA press release stated:
“On behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed suit today against Monsanto Company to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed. The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past”. (4)
In January 2012, the judge, Naomi Buchwald, dismissed the case against Monsanto, but the plaintiff group appealed in July of that year. The group had grown to over “300,000 individuals and 4,500 farms− filed a brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C.” The argument was heard on January 10, 2013. (4)
In light of the HR 933 bill having passed and been signed into law, whatever the outcome of the appeal, any judgment can’t be acted on. Some experts point to the six-month temporary status of the bill, but as all things in government, it’s easier to make a provisionary measure permanent than to go back to the drawing board to draw up a new bill.
Monsanto and Government Bedfellows
Another warning alarm is being rung by opponents to the bill over Monsanto’s former Vice President of Public Policy, Michael Taylor, who is with the FDA. In 2009, Taylor rejoined the government as “Senior Advisor to the FDA Commissioner” and in 2010, President Obama appointed him as Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
“Taylor is featured in the documentaries The Future of Food and The World According to Monsanto as a pertinent example of revolving door since he is a lawyer who has spent the last few decades moving between Monsanto and the FDA and USDA”. (5)
Obama didn’t respond to the 250,000 signature petition protesting HR 933 bio-tech rider and signed the bill into law.
It’s understandable that the agriculture community is angry and fearful, especially since the Obama Administration has “pending approval of 13 new biotech crops and AquaBounty’s ‘Frankenfish'”, a genetically engineered “salmon”.
Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! states, “America’s farmers deserve to be protected from unwanted contamination of their crops and the continued harassment by biotech seed giant Monsanto.” (6)
A layperson would ask, why wasn’t the rider simply omitted and the bill passed anyway? But since the original bill with the rider wasn’t reopened, no one even examined the rider or any of the other riders tacked on to the bill. Still, isn’t that part of the due diligence we expect from our civil servants in Congress? Shouldn’t each person on the committee be held responsible for irresponsible law-making?