Monsanto Protection Act
I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss last week’s Continuing Resolution which included the Monsanto Protection Act. Now, I know the expectation is that I slam Obama for signing this piece of legislation and for me to say he has let us all down (I’ve seen a ton of these emails and articles already). But, here’s my truth – signing the Continuing Resolution was the right thing to do, even if it included the Monsanto Protection Act.
Hear me out before you get excited!
Monsanto Protection Act – Technically What Is It?
The term Monsanto Protection Act is used for a small section on page 78 of HR933, the Continuing Resolution passed by Congress and signed into law by Obama last week. It is called a ‘rider’ and was finalized shortly before the bill went to a vote. It was located in Section 735 of the Agricultural Appropriations Bill and stated (this is the full text):
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
At first read this doesn’t seem so bad – protecting farmers is good, right?
Monsanto Protection Act – What it Really Is
What this section really does is direct the Secretary of Agriculture to grant temporary deregulation status, allowing growers to continue cultivating biotech (genetically modified) crops. These crops have previously been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture but are experiencing legal challenges regarding the safety of the crops. This section prevents the courts from interceding in the review process. Basically, this means that the federal courts are effectively barred from being able to halt the sale or planting of genetically modified seeds and crops, even if health issues are discovered in the future. The primary benefactor of this section is the company that produces the the genetically modified seeds, Monsanto. Hence the nickname the Monsanto Protection Act.
Monsanto Protection Act – It Isn’t New Folks
A similar section, with the more politically correct term “Farmer Assurance Provision” was in a 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill supported by the American Soybean Association, Monsanto, and other major agricultural associations. It didn’t make it into the final bill but began a more frank debate between big agriculture corporations/groups and their opponents.
Monsanto Protection Act – How Did It Get In Again?
In 2013 the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for the Agriculture budget was Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) who had resisted similar riders in the past. He retired at the end of 2012. The chairman of the full Senate committee, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) died shortly before Christmas.
Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) replaced Kohl as the chairman of the appropriation subcommittee for Agriculture. Tyson Foods is headquartered in his state. Senator Barabara Mikulski (D-Md) replaced Inouye as chairman of the full Senate committee. Perdue Farms, another big proponent of the rider has deep roots in her state.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the highest ranking Republican on the Agriculture appropriations subcommitte is the Senator most widely associated with the Monsanto Protection Act rider. Blunt has openly stated that he worked with Monsanto. And, Inouye, prior to his death, was sympathetic to the cause as Monsanto has a large seed operation in Hawaii. So, Monsanto helped write the section that protects them.
Monsanto Protection Act – Why It Wasn’t Nullified
Many email blasts I received called on Obama to veto the Monsanto Protection Act section. First, the President doesn’t have line item veto. Second, unlike a typical ride which is placed at the end of the bill where the President does have the ability to issue a Signing Statement nullifying the section, the Monsanto Protection Act rider was on page 78. So, the bill became an all-or-nothing issue.
Monsanto Protection Act – Included in a Last-Ditch Effort to Keep the Government Running
If Congress didn’t pass, and Obama didn’t sign a Continuing Resolution by March 27, 2013, the government shuts down. Most likely this would be a disaster for the country. So, it was signed on March 26th. Now, I’m not happy about the Monsanto Protection Act but it’s better than leaving the entire country in the lerch. And, in my opinion, that’s why it passed. If Obama had vetoed it there wouldn’t have been enough time to keep the government funded. Weirdly, the rider is actually the lesser of evils.
Most importantly though, the Continuing Resolution with the Monsanto Protection Act is only good until September 30, 2013 – that’s right, only six months. I know a lot can happen in six months, both good and bad.
Monsanto Protection Act – Why Wasn’t Anyone Paying Attention?
About a month ago, when Food Democracy Now was sending out information regarding the Monsanto Protection Act, I Googled it to find out more information. I like to understand as many sides of each argument as possible. Interestingly, the only thing I found were a few articles from alternative media and some information from the Huffington Post! No mainstream media news even mentioned the Monsanto Protection Act.
Today, I Googled the Monsanto Protection Act again today – 36,400,00 hits.
Monsanto Protection Act – Next Steps
Ok, I am a glass-is-half-full kind of person. So, let’s take this opportunity to really make a difference. A month ago very few people were talking about the Monsanto Protection Act and the influence in our government from big agriculture business. Now, millions are engaged. The Monsanto Protection Act will end in six months – help make sure nothing like it happens again. Even though I know how and why we got here, I’m still outraged. If you are too, it’s time to get involved. This is a chance to use the outrage to encourage discourse and education about genetic modification, labeling, and big agri-business.
Unless people know the truth, nothing will change.
US Senator Greg Walden’s (R-Oregon) Office