The “Monsanto Protection Act” of Betrayal
On March 26, 2013, President Obama signed H.R. 933, the Agricultural Appropriations Bill — a spending bill that prevents a federal government shutdown by providing funding to departments such as the USDA and FDA along with other agencies though the 2013 fiscal year. However, a peculiar addition tacked onto the bill titled the “Farmer Assurance Provision” (Section 735) has food justice advocates and consumers in an uproar. The provision prohibits federal courts from banning the sale and planting of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), even if they are proven to be dangerous to human health. The insidious adjunct of H.R. 933 authored by Missouri senator Roy Blunt, a champion of the biotech industry, has also been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” and the “Monsanto Rider” by food policy organizations. These are fitting monikers for a provision that contains explicit language removing legal hurdles for GMO seed manufacturing companies such as Monsanto.
The signing of H.R. 933, and the blatant corporate favoritism found in Section 735 is a serious transgression — one that should not be taken lightly. Here are some important facts to consider in thinking about the Monsanto Protection Act:
1. Monsanto products have a history of being dangerous and eventually banned.
The upheaval over the Monsanto Protection Act is the latest in a long history of controversy surrounding the biotech giant — the largest seed company in the world and one of the largest chemical companies. Monsanto has created a myriad of products that have been banned in several countries because of their proven dangers to human health and the environment, including Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). While rBGH increased milk production in cows, it also caused painful mastitis, infection and reproductive problems in the animals. Consequently, the hormone has been banned in the European Union and Canada because of the large amounts of puss and blood found in rBGH milk, and because of the potential linkage to cancer . Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB), found in many products, is another of Monsanto’s creations that was banned in the U.S. due to its high toxicity and linkage to cancer but not before being dumped by the tons in rivers all over the country, causing persisting environmental damage and health crises in concentrated areas . Monsanto also brought us DDT, the pesticide that inspired Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and Agent Orange used in the chemical warfare tactics of the U.S. army against Vietnam that famously burned the skin off of Vietnamese civilians. Both chemicals are now banned in most countries.
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2. Monsanto is preparing for, nay, expecting that GMO products be proven harmful.
The Monsanto Protection Act — written in collusion with Monsanto — demonstrates that if the company has learned one thing, it is that its products are likely to be proven harmful and eventually to be banned. Scientists within and outside the FDA have expressed numerous concerns over the safety of GMOs and have been silenced or discredited. However, if history is any indication, widespread recognition of proof that Monsanto’s leading GMOs products are harmful to human health and ecosystems is imminent. The Monsanto Protection Act, which bars federal courts from prohibiting the planting and selling of GMO products, even if future testing proves GMOs to be hazardous to human health, demonstrates that this lesson has been well learned.
3. The Monsanto Protection Act calls attention to the “revolving door”
Today, Monsanto’s image is marred by threats to sue states that require GMO labeling and suing farmers that save seed or accidentally grow Monsanto’s products without having paid royalties. Section 735, the company’s latest public relations blunder, calls attention to yet another issue: government complicity with corporations like Monsanto.
Many senators claim that they did not even know that Section 735 was tacked onto the bill, calling it a “backroom deal,” but Obama signed it into law despite a petition signed by over 250,000 people urging him to intervene. Missouri senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) is the man who wrote Section 735 in cooperation with Monsanto. Senator Blunt has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to his congressional campaigns from Monsanto and affiliates and has fiercely advocated for GMO producing companies. The U.S. government and Monsanto are so entwined that Monsanto and several U.S. government agencies such as the FDA, USDA, and EPA have shared a revolving door policy for decades. For example, Roger Beachy, a USDA director during Obama’s first term was also a director at Monsanto; Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner of the FDA under Obama was Vice President of Monsanto; and Lidia Watrud who worked at both the EPA and the USDA under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations was a manager and new technologies coordinator at Monsanto. These are only a drop in the bucket of government-Monsanto ties.
4. The Monsanto Protection Act, along with the rest of H.R. 933, only applies until the end of the 2013 fiscal year.
That’s until September of this year. However, that does not mean that at the end of September this problem will go away. Section 735 sets a terrible precedent. It sends the message to corporations that they can buy loopholes, even when it comes to matters of public health. And it sends the message to lawmakers that they can side with corporations with impunity, unless we take action. Join in the fight, take your informed opinion about GMOs and Monsanto to your friends and family members, and get the word out.
It is important for citizens to express their outrage over corporate favoritism. In the past, outraged and organized citizens that pushed legislators to take action won bans on harmful Monsanto products, not the other way around. The Monsanto Protection Act not only brings high visibility to the back room deals that are common among lawmakers and their campaign subsidizers but it also insights public outrage that sets change into motion.
To make your voice heard, sign the petition that demands the labeling of GMO foods from Food Democracy Now!