Anger Grows Over Secret ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

Image: Anger Grows Over Secret ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ Activists protest against Monsanto outside the White House on March 27. Monsanto recently benefited from a section buried in the latest budget bill allowing the agribusiness giant to plant genetically modified crops without judicial review to determine whether they are safe.

Monday, 01 Apr 2013 02:01 PM

By David Yonkman, Washington Correspondent

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Opponents of genetically modified food are outraged over a provision they have dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act,” which was signed by President Barack Obama after being added to an essential spending bill without congressional hearings.

The rider strips the power from federal courts to halt the sales and planting of genetically modified foods even if health concerns arise, according to Food Democracy Now, a food-safety advocacy organization.

Food Democracy Now collected more than 250,000 signatures on a petition that called for the president to veto the measure, which was tucked into the $982 billion six-month spending bill needed to keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year, CBS News reported.

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“This provision is simply an industry ploy to continue to sell genetically engineered seeds even when a court of law has found they were approved by USDA illegally,” the petition stated. “It is unnecessary and an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review. Congress should not be meddling with the judicial review process based solely on the special interest of a handful of companies.”

The measure was added to the spending bill by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Newsmax confirmed.

Blunt’s office wasn’t able to respond by press deadline, but the senator defended his work in a Politico article.

Blunt said he worked with Monsanto and had a valuable partner in the late chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was sympathetic given Monsanto’s large seed operations in Hawaii, Politico reported.

“What it says is if you plant a crop that is legal to plant when you plant it, you get to harvest it,” Blunt told the Capitol Hill newspaper. “But it is only a one-year protection in that bill.”

Opponents of the provision say it was jammed through Congress without a proper hearing in relevant committees.

But Blunt’s explanation failed to convince the tea party group FreedomWorks. “This is just another example of special interests getting into a must-pass bill without public review or a chance to comment,” Dean Clancy, the group’s vice president for public policy, told Newsmax.

Clancy said Congress needs to get back to the regular legislative order of holding hearings, allowing for debate, and voting on amendments before they go before the full House and Senate.

The Center for Food Safety criticized Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for not giving the measure a proper review. The provision was added to the bill while in the committee, but no hearings were held.

“In this hidden backroom deal, Sen. Mikulski turned her back on consumer, environmental, and farmer protection in favor of corporate welfare for biotech companies such as Monsanto,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, the International Business Times reported.

Mikulski’s office released a statement saying she “understands the anger over this provision,” but her “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 statement said. “She will continue to fight for a regular and timely appropriations process and other valuable priorities, including food safety.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana took to the Senate floor to criticize the provision.

“Montanans elected me to the Senate to do away with shady backroom deals and to make government work better,” Tester said. “These provisions are giveaways worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country and deserve no place in this bill.”

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