The US House of Representatives quietly passed a last-minute addition to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill for 2013 last week - including a provision protecting genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks.
The rider, which is officially known as the Farmer Assurance
Provision, has been derided by opponents of biotech lobbying as the
“Monsanto Protection Act,” as it would strip federal courts
of the authority to immediately halt the planting and sale of
genetically modified (GMO) seed crop regardless of any consumer
The provision, also decried as a “biotech rider,” should
have gone through the Agricultural or Judiciary Committees for
review. Instead, no hearings were held, and the piece was evidently
unknown to most Democrats (who hold the majority in the Senate)
prior to its approval as part of HR 993, the short-term funding
bill that was approved to avoid a federal government
Senator John Tester (D-MT) proved to be the lone dissenter to
the so-called Monsanto Protection Act, though his proposed
amendment to strip the rider from the bill was never put to a
As the US legal system functions today, and largely as a result
of prior lawsuits, the USDA is required to complete environmental
impact statements (EIS) prior to both the planting and sale of GMO
crops. The extent and effectiveness to which the USDA exercises
this rule is in itself a source of serious dispute.
The reviews have been the focus of heated debate between food
safety advocacy groups and the biotech industry in the past. In
December of 2009, for example, Food Democracy Now collected
signatures during the EIS commenting period in a bid to prevent the
approval of Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, which many feared would
contaminate organic feed used by dairy farmers; it was approved
Previously discovered pathogens in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn
and soy are suspected of causing infertility in livestock and to
impact the health of plants.
So, just how much of a victory is this for biotech companies
like Monsanto? Critics are thus far alarmed by the very way in
which the provision made it through Congress -- the rider was
introduced anonymously as the larger bill progressed through the
Senate Appropriations Committee. Now, groups like the Center for
Food Safety are holding Senator Mikulski (D-MD), chairman of that
committee, to task and lobbing accusations of a “backroom
deal” with the biotech industry.
As the Washington Times points out, the provision’s success is viewed by many as a victory by companies like Syngenta Corp, Cargill, Monsanto and affiliated PACs that have donated $7.5 million to members of Congress since 2009, and $372,000 to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
It remains unclear whether the bill’s six-month expiration means that the provision will be short-lived. Regardless, Food Democracy Now has begun a campaign calling on US President Barack Obama to veto the Continuing Resolution spending bill, which seems unlikely as HR 933 includes a sweeping amount of government funding.