by Jeff Clemetson, Editor
While the nation has its attention on the looming fiscal cliff debate in Washington, bio-tech and chemical-crop companies like Monsanto and Dow have deftly slipped a bill into the 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that would give them almost complete immunity from judicial review.
The Monsanto-supported Section 733 (or as Monsanto lobbyists so Orwellianly put it – the “farmer assurance provision”) was first written as a rider for the Farm Bill, which is currently stalled in Congress. But while the country’s spending bills are taking precedence because of automatic spending cuts and tax increases that are part of the so-called fiscal cliff, lobbyists for Monsanto and other GMO firms saw an opportunity to slip Section 733 into an omnibus spending bill that must be passed before the end of the year.
Section 733 would allow companies like Monsanto to plant and sell GMO crops without review, even if their safety is being challenged by consumer groups or organic farmers who fear contamination by GMOs in their crops. The bill would also limit the power of the USDA from reviewing GMO crops and would also expedite the process of safety review before these crops can go to market. If Section 733 is approved by Congress, next year the only way to stop a new, untested GMO product would be to sue the maker of that crop after it had been to market. And even then, companies like Monsanto would still be allowed to plant and sell the crops while the lawsuit is tied up in litigation. Meanwhile, a farmer whose field is being contaminated with GMOs or a consumer group who discovers a safety concern about the crop would just have to sit and watch the damage being done while the case makes it through court – most likely all the way to the Supreme Court which could take years, even decades.
Specifically, the Section 733 bill would:
-Keep federal courts from being able to put restrictions on planting GMO crops that are possibly hazardous, even ones that are already deemed unlawful.
-Take away federal agency (USDA) discretion over approving GMO crops.
-Put into place a backdoor approval process for GMO crops, even ones that are currently deemed unlawful
-Circumvent existing environmental laws designed to protect the natural world from the bio-engineered world.
Opponents of Section 733, which includes groups like the National Family Farm Coalition and the Union of Concerned Scientists, have dubbed it the “Monsanto Protection Act” and have begun a grassroots campaign to challenge Congress to eliminate Section 733 from the 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. If you wish to take part in the action to stop Section 733, you can fill out and send a form letter by email to your local Congressman and urge him/her to vote against the section here on Food Democracy Now!’s Website.
If Section 733 passes, it will have been a tough year for the organic food movement and food safety advocates. California’s GMO-labeling law, which would have forced food companies to label their products if they contained GMOs, was defeated by voters in November by a slim margin. A labeling provision in the Farm Bill was defeated over the summer and, disappointingly, with the help of raw milk advocate Rand Paul. And a lawsuit that would have protected organic farmers from GMO drift, where cross pollination ruins organic crops, was shot down by a federal judge.
Hopefully 2013 will start off on a much better foot with the defeat of Section 733. Happy New Year!