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The “Monsanto Protection Act” is what many food activists have coined Section 735 of the Farmer’s Assurance Provision, and has many organic advocates and organizations up in arms. And for good reason. This bill completely contradicts President Obama’s campaign promise to label genetically modified organisms, and gives Monsanto and the USDA power to entirely ignore judicial oversight.
What it Changes
Prior to the passage of this provision, the USDA’s testing of new GMO crops was subject to judicial oversight. The law previously required the USDA to complete environmental impact statements (EIS) before allowing for the sale and planting of GMO crops. These environmental impact statements were subject to judicial review. For example, in 2010, the Center for Food Safety initiated a lawsuit against the USDA, requesting a temporary restraining order to prevent Monsanto from planting GMO sugar beets since the USDA failed to file a proper EIS. The court ruled for the plaintiff, reversing USDA approval of GMO sugar beets.
The new provision, however, undermines this process, and would have allowed for the USDA to ignore the court’s ruling on GMO sugar beats. In relevant part, the Act states:
“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. . . “
Basically, this throws the whole process of judicial review straight down the garbage can. Instead of providing a check for the USDA’s determination, the USDA can ignore the court system and makes its own determinations on GMO crops. And although the provision would only last for 6 months, there’s no telling what legal precedent it could set.
Who’s Behind It
The provision was supposedly written by Senator Roy Blunt, in conjunction with Monsanto, a publicly trade agricultural corporation who leads in the production of genetically engineered crops. Talk about conflict of interest! The Center for Food Safety also reported that several democrats were completely unaware of the provision’s inclusion, as it was slipped into the bill last minute.
What you Can Do
Despite adamant public protest, Obama signed the bill, allowing the law to take effect. Despite Obama’s poor history on US food policy, I’ve always had faith that his policies would improve this term, despite the fact that he appointed Tom Vilsack, former Monsanto lawyer, as the secretary of agriculture. After all, he had healthcare and re-election to worry about first term, and he could only spread his political clout so thin. And while he still has very important civil rights issues on his plate at the moment, this is his last chance to make the more radical policies he promised—to make steps towards labeling GMOs– not to allow more of them to go unchecked. As supporters, we must demonstrate that we are no longer OK with food policy taking a back seat, and that we want him to pursue the policy of labeling GMO’s, as he said he would in 2007.
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