On Wednesday, the Senate passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through September and avoid a government shutdown — and tucked into the 587-page bill are two brief provisions worth millions of dollars for large agribusinesses. The first blocks basic protections for livestock farmers already passed in the 2008 Farm Bill, effectively giving large meatpacking corporations free rein to manipulate the livestock market. The second exempts biotechnology giants like Monsanto and Dow from judicial review, allowing them to sell and plant genetically engineered crops even if a court of law orders them to stop.
These so-called “riders” often have little to do with the bill they piggyback, but special interests deploy them to avoid the scrutiny of the legislative process. A similar rider to deregulate the biotech industry quietly appeared in the stalled House Farm Bill last year. This time, agribusinesses took advantage of the urgency of averting the impending government shutdown on March 27. No lawmaker has come forward to claim responsibility for the riders.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MO), the Senate’s only working farmer, introduced two amendments to remove these “corporate giveaways,” but was not allowed to bring his amendments to a vote. Last week, Tester gave a fiery speech eviscerating the backdoor move to further consolidate power among a handful of corporations:
The House inserted a provision in the bill that gives enormous market power to America’s three largest meatpacking corporations while stiffing family farmers and ranchers. Family-run production agriculture faces tremendous market manipulation. Chicken farmers, hog farmers, and cattle ranchers all struggle to get a fair price from meatpackers. And if they fight back, they risk angering corporate representatives and being shut out of the market. Thanks to this provision, the Agriculture Department will not be able to ensure a fair, open market that puts the brakes on the worst abuses by the meatpacking industry. What’s worse is that the USDA took Congressionally-mandated steps to protect ranchers from market manipulation over the last few years. That’s what we told them to do in the 2008 Farm Bill. And this provision will actually overturn rules that USDA has already put in place. But apparently intense behind-the-scenes lobbying won out in the House of Representatives, and now we’re back to square one with big meatpackers calling the shots.
The second provision sent over from the House tells USDA to ignore any judicial ruling regarding the planting of genetically-modified crops. Its supporters are calling it the “farmer assurance” provision, but all it really assures is a lack of corporate liability. The provision says that when a judge finds that the USDA approved a crop illegally, the department must re-approve the crop and allow it to continue to be planted — regardless of what the judge says.
The “farmer assurance” rider addresses a 2010 controversy, in which a judge ordered a halt on planting Monsanto’s Roundup Ready beets until an environmental study could be conducted. The USDA ignored the judge’s ruling and allowed farmers to keep planting the beets without an environmental study. Nevertheless, the company unleashed a lobbying blitz of almost 6 million dollars on Washington. In summer of 2012, the farmer assurance rider popped up in the appropriations bill.