The big news in Washington last week was all about the battle over marriage equality, but while that was going on, the government passed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (HR 933), which essentially gives the government funding to keep running for the next six months. What you may have missed – and what many in congress missed – was the short little rider attached to the bill that gave biotech giant Monsanto a free legal pass from any litigation related to its genetically modified seeds. It’s a move that could have devastating impact on agriculture in the US.
The Monsanto rider (also known as section 753 and 742 of HR 933) bars the federal court system from halting the planting or sale of genetically modified seeds, regardless of health concerns, and strips livestock growers of fairness protections that were put in place last year. Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, actually worked with Monsanto to create the language that would be inserted in the bill. (That’s right: A Senator actually worked with a private company to create a law that allows a product to be sold to consumers regardless of any health hazards associated with it.)
Some senators claim that they were unaware of the rider, which sits buried 78 pages into the bill, despite numerous protests, petitions and campaigns aimed at getting the rider removed. In mid-March, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) submitted two amendments to remove the riders, but they remained anyway. President Obama signed the bill into law on March 26th, despite protests from activists who stood in front of the White House demanding that the rider be stripped. All of which prompts us to wonder, if members of Congress were unaware of the rider, how closely were they paying attention?
Monsanto has never been afraid to play dirty to get what it wants. Last year, the company was accused of airing misleading ads to help defeat GMO labeling in California. Over the years, the company has had a cozy relationship with government agencies, including the company’s public policy VP who went on to become the deputy commissioner for the FDA. This latest move opens the door for a dangerous precedent, which is why it is so important to act now to avoid the law from being renewed after it expires.