The Shameful “Monsanto Protection Act”

© Josh Sager – April 2013

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The term “Monsanto Protection Act” refers to a policy rider attached to H.R. 933, a massive continuing budget resolution. This policy rider, formally called the “Farmer Assurance Provision” has drawn massive criticism from a wide variety of political groups; environmental and consumer protections groups object to the rider’s contents, while anti-corruption and government transparency groups object to the rider because of how it was passed.

What does the Monsanto Protection Act do?

When boiled down from its legalese, the Monsanto Protection Act, gives biotech companies the ability to keep selling their genetically engineered seed products, even if there is pending litigation surrounding the safety of the seeds. Basically, genetically engineered seed sellers can now sell their products, even if lawsuits are being filed that demonstrate that the seeds are simply not safe, or have environmental concerns.

To give you some perspective on how extreme this provision is, we can simply look at it in another situation. In the 1970s, Ford Motors Company began producing its Pinto car model. Unfortunately, by 1977, numerous allegations of Ford Pinto’s having their gas-tanks detach and explode led to litigation and a massive recall. If the Ford Motors Company were held to the standard created by the Monsanto Protection Act, they would be legally able to continue selling their explosive cars, even if they knew the risks, up until litigation was concluded—as this commonly takes years, the potential damage of this delay would be massive.

While there is no possibility of genetically engineered seeds blowing up like a Pinto, they have the potential to cause significant environmental damage, as well as health consequences for the consumer. In the event of a mistake by a biotech company, this law will delay a response to a problem and will exacerbate the problem.

What the Monsanto Protection Act achieves is simply to allow bio-tech corporations to sell goods that they have been told are dangerous. This provision may be profitable for the corporations, but it is not in the public interest.

How could the legislature pass such a bill?

Secretly and quickly.

Unlike many pieces of legislation, the Monsanto Protection Act was not debated on the floor, did not go through a committee, and was not publically suggested by any politician. In as much as such a thing is possible in our government, this rider was snuck into the law in a back room and passed as an attachment to a much larger bill—odds are, most politicians simply didn’t know what they were voting for.

A bill giving private corporations the right to continue selling foods that they know to be toxic, is extremely politically risky, and nobody wants to claim it. Because of this, whichever legislators who were involved chose not to suggest the provision on its merits, but to sneak the law into a large appropriations bill that would certainly pass—through doing this, they could pass the law while still remaining anonymous and unaccountable to those who were angry about this reduction in accountability for bio-tech seed manufacturers.

When people realized what this rider actually does, no politician initially admitted to inserting this rider into the bill and there was confusion as to who actually suggested it. A good amount of finger-pointing ensued, until Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) admitted to playing a large part in the rider’s insertion into the larger bill (despite this admission, it is likely that he was not the sole sponsor).

Not only did Blunt admit to playing a part in the insertion of this rider, but he claimed that Monsanto, the agri-giant with a massive stake in bio-tech seeds, helped him write the rider. While we have little clarification as to the input by Monsanto, if this situation follows previous similar cases, it is entirely possible that Monsanto actually wrote the rider and presented it to Blunt to attach to the bill.

It is important to note that Senator Blunt has taken large contributions from Monsanto in the past, including over $100,000 since 2010. A cynical mind would wonder, is this just the price paid by Monsanto in order to get legal indemnity from lawsuits aimed at their seed products?

To recap this situation: A politician who has taken huge contributions from bio-tech seed manufacturers snuck a rider into a giant appropriations bill that gives bio-tech seed manufacturers the ability to sell potentially toxic seeds, and the rider was passed without any debate or discussion in the legislature. Put plainly, this is not a good way to pass laws and the Monsanto Protection Act illustrates interest group power gone amok.

Unfortunately, the Monsanto Protection Act is now law and there is little hope of repealing it in the face of the organized money on the other side. Just as GMO corporations spent money to enact the law in the first place, they will pay politicians to keep it in the law—it is a tremendous boon to them, becoming protected from lawsuits stopping them from selling their goods, and there is no chance that they will give this up without a fight.

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