On March 24, the pro-Monsanto “Farmer Assurance Provision, Section 735” rider was quietly slipped into the Agricultural Appropriations provisions of HR 933, the Continuing Resolution spending bill designed to avert a federal government shutdown.
Section 735 should have been labeled the “Monsanto Protection Act.” Now law for the next six months after President Barack Obama signed HR 933 on March 29, it allows agribusiness giant Monsanto to promote and plant genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) seeds, free from any judicial litigation that might decide the crops are unsafe.
The rider states that the U.S. Department of Agriculture “shall, notwithstanding any other provisions of law, immediately grant temporary permits to continue using the [GE] seed at the request of a farmer or producer [Monsanto].” The bill effectively requires the USDA to give Monsanto a green light to promote GMO seeds.
Even if a court review determines that a GMO crop harms humans, Section 735 allows the seeds to be planted once the USDA approves them. Public health lawyer Michele Simon says the Senate bill requires the USDA to “ignore any court ruling that would otherwise halt the planting of new genetically-engineered crops.” (nydailynews.com, March 25)
The rider’s wording is so controversial that even USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called on the Office of General Council to review it, noting, “It appears to pre-empt judicial review of a deregulatory action which may make the provision unenforceable.” (politico.com, March 25)
Prior to the bill’s passage, 13 new GMO seed crops awaited USDA authorization. Now these endorsements are almost certainly guaranteed, even though previous legal challenges overturned USDA sanctions of other GMO crops. No doubt Monsanto and other GMO companies will use the next six months to fast track their new seeds.
Even more controversial than Section 735’s wording is that its primary beneficiary, Monsanto, wrote it. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R), who drafted the rider with Monsanto, admitted as much to the New York Daily News with the excuse that “it is only a one-year protection.” (March 25)
This bill’s passage was a bipartisan effort. Despite a protest petition with 250,000 signers and a demonstration by farmers opposing it outside the White House on March 24, the entire Senate, led by Democrat Barbara Mikulski, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, passed the bill. Obama, who campaigned in 2007 for labeling GMO food, signed it.
GM foods dominate food supply
Genetically modified foods are overtaking the food supply. Nearly 80 percent of nonorganic processed foods, including those labeled “natural,” contain genetically engineered bacteria, viruses, antibiotic-resistant genes or imported DNA.
Through ownership of patents on 90 percent of all GE seeds, Monsanto effectively controls most of the U.S. food supply, and not just processed foods. In August, Walmart began selling fresh Monsanto GM sweet corn — the first to go straight from farm to table.
Under the brand name “Roundup Ready,” Monsanto sells seeds genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. GE seeds are designed to let farmers aerially spray fields to kill weeds while leaving crops intact.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate, absorbed by the crops, has appeared in foods sold for consumption.
Monsanto also sells seeds engineered to produce their own pesticides. Bacillus thuringiensis genes are inserted into plant genomes. The plant cell then produces an insecticidal protein known as Bt, which is incorporated into food.
The EPA and FDA approved Monsanto’s sale of Bt seeds for potato plants, maize, soybeans and cotton. Some seeds can produce more than one Bt protein and be resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup.
Monsanto tried, but failed, to insert a similar “protection act” into the Farm Bill of 2012. In defending Section 735’s provisions, Monsanto, DuPont and other GMO seed producers claim government restrictions are “unfair to farmers.” These corporations control 47 percent of the worldwide proprietary seed market.
Monsanto’s alleged “concern” for farmers has its limits. GMO seeds often end up in the fields of unsuspecting farmers who planted crops using traditional seeds. Inevitably, Monsanto’s “seed police” turn up at their doors armed with lawsuits claiming seed patent violations. The farmers are prohibited from recycling their own seeds and forced to pay hefty fines to Monsanto for having GMO crops they never planted in their fields.
Farmers buying Monsanto patented seeds must agree not to save the seeds for replanting or to sell seeds to other farmers. Each year farmers are forced to buy new seeds and more Roundup weed killer from Monsanto. Traditional seeds are disappearing. In the 1990s, pesticide manufacturers purchased seed companies, anticipating potential profits from monopolizing both aspects of farm production.
Roundup Ready seeds sicken rats
Last fall, French scientists released a study that found rats fed on Monsanto’s GMO corn or exposed to Roundup Ready seeds suffered tumors and multiple organ damage. (Reuters, Sept. 19)
Gilles-Eric Seralini and colleagues at the University of Caen fed rats a diet containing NK603, a Roundup Ready seed variety, or gave them water with Roundup weed killer at U.S.-permitted levels. These rats died earlier than the control group.
Seralini noted that his study of rats throughout their two-year lifespan provided a more realistic view of the risks than the 90-day feeding trials typically used for GMO crop approvals. While Monsanto disputes this study, global concern is mounting over GMO foods.
No doubt Monsanto hopes that its six-month window of opportunity will quietly be extended through future congressional acts. Everyone who opposes the expanded use of GMO food should make sure this doesn’t happen.