Buried in the House Farm Bill, approved by the House Agriculture Committee on Friday, is the agribusiness industry’s latest attempt to shed regulations restricting new genetically engineered (GE) crops. While the bill’s massive food stamps cuts elicited widespread outcry, the industry quietly inserted provisions to rush new crops onto the market after only a cursory review of their safety.
Three sections (10011, 10013, and 10014) tucked into the middle of the bulky bill work together to eliminate any real review of GE crops. This “Monsanto Rider” got its name from the corporation with a choke-hold on most of the country’s staple crops; Monsanto owns the patents to genetically engineered strains of soybean, corn, sugar beet and cotton, to name a few, as well as many controversial chemical herbicides. Here are some of the rider’s most egregious game-changers:
- Environmental law does not apply. Review of GE crop impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, or any other environmental law is outlawed. Monsanto has particular beef with NEPA; in 2010 a federal court forced the USDA to conduct a study of Monsanto’s “Round-up Ready” alfalfa, which banned farmers from planting or selling the crop for four years. The USDA eventually approved the crop, even after finding that “gene flow” between GM and non-GM alfalfa is “probable,” threatening organic dairy producers and other users of non-GMO alfalfa, and that there is strong potential for the creation of Roundup-resistant “superweeds” that require ever-higher doses of toxic herbicides.
- No outside scrutiny allowed. The bill makes the USDA the sole authority on GE crops, immunizing applications from review by other federal agencies or outside groups. Furthermore, the USDA is not allowed to accept money to fund a study from anyone who petitions for additional analysis — even if a judge orders one.
- Impossible deadlines. While the USDA has never denied a single application for GE crop approval, the industry is making sure that they never will. Currently, new crops can at least be slowed down by lengthy environmental studies and expert review. But the House Farm Bill forces the USDA to approve or deny any application within one year (with an optional extension of 180 days).
- Approval time bombs. If the USDA fails to meet the deadline, the crop gets automatically approved for commercialization, entirely skipping the review process.
Monsanto paid well for these radical additions. OpenSecrets.org reported that in the first three months of this year, the corporation spent $1.4 million lobbying Washington. Last year, Monsanto spent about $6.3 million total, more than any other agribusiness firm except the tobacco company Altria. Even if the Farm Bill provisions are killed in the Senate, another “Monsanto Rider” was already inserted into the FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The company also recently took its aspirations across borders to Mexico, where political pressure has pushed the government to give Monsanto’s genetically modified corn a planting permit.