Monsanto Protection Act
President Obama has become the best friend that agribusiness has ever had in the White House. He just signed a law that critics are already dubbing the “Monsanto Protection Act.” The law makes it illegal for a federal judge to issue a court order halting the sale, use, or distribution of genetically engineered seeds even if it is proven the seeds could be harmful. The law would also limit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ability to regulate the use of genetically engineered seeds.
They call the measure the Monsanto Protection Act because it only benefits the makers of genetically engineered seeds, such as Monsanto. Congress was able to put this horrendous piece of legislation on the books by tacking it onto a funding act for the USDA and other agencies. If Obama hadn’t signed the law, the USDA would have had to cut back on food inspections.
Why You Should Worry About The Monsanto Protection Act
Instead of going into the well-documented dangers of genetically modified foods here, I’ll just raise one troubling point. Why would Monsanto and its operatives on Capitol Hill go out of their way to get this law passed if there wasn’t something wrong with genetically modified foods? What do those people know that we don’t? If GM foods were safe in the first place, they wouldn’t need this law.
The frightening thing is that signing this law was in keeping with Obama’s whole agriculture policy. In spite of Michelle’s advocacy for organic food, the Obama administration has been squarely on the side of agribusiness since it took office. Tom Vilsack, who used to ride on Monsanto’s corporate jet when he was governor of Iowa, was both appointed and reappointed Secretary of Agriculture by Obama. Vilsack, a media darling, is also a likely choice for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
To make matters worse, some observers, including organic food advocate Dr. Joseph Mercola, have alleged that the Department of Homeland Security and the USDA have plans to ban or severely restrict organic farming in the name of food safety. The idea is to prove that organic farming is at risk for terrorist attack but conventional farming is not. In other words, the Obama administration wants to force genetically engineered food on your family whether you want it or not.
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The USDA itself has a long and proven history of championing big agribusiness over small farmers. In the past it’s even tried to list genetically engineered algae as an organic food. It has also refused to require that food labels list whether a product contains genetically engineered materials or not. Even the People’s Republic of China and Saudi Arabia require such labeling; our supposedly democratic government does not.
It looks as if big food and its henchmen in Washington are afraid of a massive backlash against genetically engineered food. In particular, they’re afraid of huge lawsuits they might face if it’s proven that GM food does cause harm. Worse, they’re trying to use government to protect their investment in genetically modified food.
A Troubling Double Standard
The Monsanto Protection Act exposes a troubling double standard that is on display from America’s leaders. News reports that President Obama and Michelle go out of their way to avoid processed food, industrialized food, and genetically modified food and keep from feeding it to their daughters. Sasha and Malia Obama attend an exclusive private school in Washington, where the cafeteria only serves organic food. Former presidential chefs have revealed that the food served in the Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama White Houses has been almost exclusively organic.
Get the picture here: Our leaders are trying to force something on us that they refuse to eat. The executives of the large corporations that bankrolled the successful opposition to Proposition 37 in California (which would have required labels to list all genetically modified ingredients) eat in corporate cafeterias and exclusive restaurants that only use organic ingredients.
They shop at Whole Foods, a supermarket chain that plans to label all genetically modified products. A large percentage of the American population cannot afford to shop there. Whole Foods and its competitor, Trader Joe’s, refused to carry Monsanto’s genetically modified corn; however, Wal-Mart stocked the GM product.
So What Can You Do To Protect Your Family From Genetically Modified Foods?
Obama’s latest action should be a wakeup call to all of us who care about our families’ health. We need to take actions to defend our families and not rely on the government to do it.
Fortunately, there is a lot that you can do to protect your family from genetically modified foods. The Non-GMO Project maintains a list of foods that are verified to contain non-GMO ingredients. The list is available at the project’s website. Start buying organic non-GMO products. Also vote with your money by shopping at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and other stores that label or refuse to stock GMO food.
Beyond that, you need to locate sources of organic non-GMO food for your family. The best, of course, is your own garden. You can start by investing in a large stockpile of heirloom seeds now. These are traditional seeds that pollinate, which means you can harvest new seeds from the plants you grow. You can order heirloom seeds online, and with them you can have a source of organic vegetables. Learn how to can and preserve food so you can have a supply of food all winter.
Look into other alternative sources of food, such as food cooperatives, foraging, local organic farms, farmer’s markets, and community gardens as well. If you belong to a church or community organization, try to talk the members into organizing an organic community garden.
Try to get in a position so you’ll be able to serve your family healthy, organic food even if Monsanto succeeds in yanking it from the shelves. Also learn how to cook so that you can prepare your own food from raw ingredients. Organic ingredients aren’t that much more expensive that regular ones, especially if you grow the majority of it yourself.
What Does The Future Hold?
Be ready for a massive federal assault on organic food and the opponents of genetically modified foods. The Monsanto Protection Act looks like an opening shot in this war.
Expect to see the USDA and agribusiness engage in a disinformation campaign similar to what tobacco conducted on behalf of cigarettes. Dr. Mercola believes it’s already begun. They’ll use pseudoscience to defend genetically modified foods and scare tactics against GM opponents. A big one will be that the poor will starve if food is labeled genetically engineered. Another tactic will be branding everybody who refuses to eat GM food as a granola-eating hippie.
It looks like it’s going to be much harder for average people to control what their families eat in the near future. Only those of us who take action now will be able to keep healthy food on our tables.
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.
It can be dificult to make an informed judgement on the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) because of the impassioned reaction that greets each new study.
At the very least, there is general agreement that much more research is required on a case by case basis into any potential health risks of GMOs.
With that in mind, the European Union (EU) has strict controls over their use, while doubts persist.
But in the US, President Barack Obama last week approved a law giving the production and sale of GMOs and Genetically Engineered crops, immunity from court intervention, even if health risks do emerge.
Food safety campaigners have dubbed it the Monsanto Protection Act. And they are heavily criticising,not only the President, but the US Congress which they say failed to scrutinise the language of the bill which was reportedly crafted in collusion with Monsanto to be deliberately opaque.
So why did the US President Barack Obama sign the Monsanto Protection into law? And is this a positive step?
Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests: Tom Philpott, the food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones magazine; and Colin O'Neill, director of Government Affairs at the Centre for Food Safety;
We asked a Monsanto representative to join the programme but they declined.
The so-called "Monsanto Protection Act," a controversial provision protecting the biotech giant from litigation, has found an unusual critic in the tea party.
The provision, Section 735, was slipped anonymously into the Senate version of the continuing resolution as part of the Agricultural Appropriations Bill, subsequently passed by the House and signed into law by President Barack Obama late last month.
Since then it's ignited an advocacy firestorm, with 250,000 people signing a petitionopposing the provision and Food Democracy Now network organizing a protest at the White House last week. Critics -- including members of the tea party -- have expressed dismay, not only at the provision's contents, but at the secretive way in which the biotech rider was introduced.
"It is not the purview of Tea Party Patriots to comment on the merits of GMOs -– that is a discussion and debate for experts and activists within that field," wrote Dustin Siggins, who blogs for Tea Party Patriots, on the group's website. "From the perspective of citizens who want open, transparent government that serves the people, however, the so-called 'Monsanto Protection Act,' Section 735 of the Continuing Resolution, is one heck of a special interest loophole for friends of Congress."
The Center for Food Safety is placing blame for the measure's covert introduction with the Senate Appropriations Committee and its chairman, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). "While there are no definite fingerprints for whoever is responsible for the rider, the earmark was allowed under the direction of Senator Barbara Mikulski," the center wrote on its website. Most lawmakers appear to have been unaware the provision was even included in the C.R., according to reports.
Last week, Mikulski's office issued a statement distancing the senator from the provision. "Senator Mikulski understands the anger over this provision. She didn't put the language in the bill and doesn't support it either," the statement reads. "As Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski's first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown. That meant she had to compromise on many of her own priorities to get a bill through the Senate that the House would pass. "
The provision's impact is unclear, since the underlying spending bill expires Sept. 30. Siggins argues in his lengthy Tea Party Patriots post analyzing the issue that it sets a "dangerous precedent." He concludes:
This all can be boiled down into a single, common phrase: a special interest loophole, and a doozy at that. We are used to subsidies, which give your tax dollars to companies to give them advantages over competitors. We are used to special interest tax loopholes and tax credits, which provide competitive and financial benefits to those with friends in Congress. And we are familiar with regulatory burden increases, which often prevent smaller companies from competing against larger ones because of the cost of compliance.
However, this is a different kind of special interest giveaway altogether. This is a situation in which a company is given the ability to ignore court orders, in what boils down to a deregulation scheme for a particular set of industries.