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Baden-Mayer and Ronnie Cummins report: "While many Americans were firing up barbecues and breaking out the sparklers to celebrate Independence Day, biotech industry executives were more likely chilling champagne to celebrate another kind of independence: immunity from federal law."

Lobbyists have succeeded in making the government protect bio-tech companies. (photo: Millions Against Monsanto/Flickr)
Lobbyists have succeeded in making the government protect bio-tech companies. (photo: Millions Against Monsanto/Flickr)

Is Monsanto About to Gain Immunity From Federal Law?

By Alexis Baden-Mayer and Ronnie Cummins, Alternet

07 July 12


hile many Americans were firing up barbecues and breaking out the sparklers to celebrate Independence Day, biotech industry executives were more likely chilling champagne to celebrate another kind of independence: immunity from federal law.

A so-called “Monsanto rider,” quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, would require – not just allow, but require - the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed. All the farmer or the biotech producer has to do is ask, and the questionable crops could be released into the environment where they could potentially contaminate conventional or organic crops and, ultimately, the nation’s food supply.

Unless the Senate or a citizen’s army of farmers and consumers can stop them, the House of Representatives is likely to ram this dangerous rider through any day now.

In a statement issued last month, the Center For Food Safety had this to say about the biotech industry’s latest attempt to circumvent legal and regulatory safeguards:

Ceding broad and unprecedented powers to industry, the rider poses a direct threat to the authority of U.S. courts, jettisons the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) established oversight powers on key agriculture issues and puts the nation’s farmers and food supply at risk.

In other words, if this single line in the 90-page Agricultural Appropriations bill slips through, it’s Independence Day for the biotech industry.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has sponsored an amendment to kill the rider, whose official name is “the farmers assurance” provision. But even if DeFazio’s amendment makes it through the House vote, it still has to survive the Senate. Meanwhile, organizations like the Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, FoodDemocracyNow!, the Alliance for Natural Health USA and many others are gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures in protest of the rider, and in support of DeFazio’s amendment.

Will Congress do the right thing and keep what are arguably already-weak safeguards in place, to protect farmers and the environment? Or will industry win yet another fight in the battle to exert total control over our farms and food supply?

Biotech’s ‘Legislator of the Year’ behind the latest sneak attack

Whom do we have to thank for this sneak attack on USDA safeguards? The agricultural sub-committee chair Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) – who not coincidentally was voted "legislator of the year for 2011-2012" by none other than the Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include Monsanto and DuPont.  As reported by Mother Jones, the Biotechnology Industry Organization declared Kingston a "champion of America's biotechnology industry" who has "helped to protect funding for programs essential to the survival of biotechnology companies across the United States."

Kingston clearly isn’t interested in the survival of America’s farmers.

Aiding and abetting Kingston is John C. Greenwood, former US Congressman from Pennsylvania and now president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. No stranger to the inner workings of Congress, Greenwood lobbied for the “farmers assurance provision” in a June 13 letter to Congress, according to Mother Jones and Bloomberg, claiming that “a stream of lawsuits” have slowed approvals and “created uncertainties” for companies developing GE crops.

Greenwood was no doubt referring to several past lawsuits, including one brought in 2007 by the Center for Food safety challenging the legality of the USDA’s approval of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa. In that case, a federal court ruled that the USDA’s approval of GMO alfalfa violated environmental laws by failing to analyze risks such as the contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa, the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and increased use of Roundup.  The USDA was forced to undertake a four-year study of GMO alfalfa’s impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). During the four-year study, farmers were banned from planting or selling the crop – creating that ‘uncertainty” that Greenwood is so worried about.

The USDA study slowed down the release of GMO alfalfa, but ultimately couldn’t stop it. As Mother Jones reports, in 2011, the USDA deregulated the crop, even though according to its own study, the USDA said that “gene flow” between GM and non-GM alfalfa is "probable," and threatens 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 Roundup and application of ever-more toxic herbicides. The report noted that two million acres of US farmland already harbor Roundup-resistant weeds caused by other Roundup Ready crops.

In another case – which perhaps paved the way for this latest provision now before the House - the USDA in 2011 outright defied a federal judge’s order to halt the planting of Monsanto’s controversial Roundup-Ready GMO sugar beets until it completed an Environmental Impact Statement. The USDA allowed farmers to continue planting the crop even while it was being assessed for safety on the grounds that there were no longer enough non-GMO seeds available to plant.

Who loses if Monsanto wins this one?

Among the biggest losers if Congress ignores the DeFazio amendment and passes the “farmers assurance provision” are thousands of farmers of conventional and organic crops, including those who rely on the export market for their livelihoods. An increasing number of global markets are requiring GMO-free agricultural products or, at the very least, enforcing strict GMO labeling laws. If this provision passes, it will allow unrestricted planting of potentially dangerous crops, exposing other safe and non-GMO crops to risk of contamination.

As we’ve seen in the past, farmers who grow crops that have been inadequately tested and later found dangerous, or whose safe crops become contaminated by nearby unsafe crops, risk huge losses and potentially, lawsuits from their customers. Ultimately, the entire US agriculture market and US economy suffers.

We have only to look back to the StarLink corn and LibertyLink rice contamination episodes for evidence of how misguided this provision is. In October 2000, traces of an Aventis GM corn called StarLink showed up in taco shells in the U.S. even though the corn had not been approved for human consumption because leading allergists were concerned it would cause food allergies. The contamination led to a massive billion dollar recall of over 300 food brands. The 'StarLink' gene also turned up unexpectedly in a second company's corn and in US corn exports, causing a costly disruption to the nation’s grain-handling system, and spurring lawsuits by farmers whose crops were damaged.

A similar disaster occurred for US rice farmers in 2006. In august of that year the USDA announced that mutant DNA of Liberty Link, a genetically modified variety of rice developed by Bayer CropScience, a then-German agri-business giant, were found in commercially-grown long-grain rice in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Missouri. LibertyLink rice, named for Bayer’s broad-spectrum herbicide glufosinate-ammonium, was never intended for human consumption. Following the announcement of contamination, Japan banned all long-grain rice imports from the U.S., and U.S. trade with the EU and other countries ground to a halt.  Rice farmers and cooperatives were forced to engage in five long years of litigation against Bayer

CropScience in an attempt to recoup some of their losses.

All the other ways this provision is just plain bad

There’s a reason we have laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Plant Protection Act of 2000, which was specifically designed “to strengthen the safety net for agricultural producers by providing greater access to more affordable risk management tools and improved protection from production and income loss . . .”. The ‘farmers assurance provision” is a thinly disguised attempt by the biotech industry to undermine these protections. Worse yet, it’s an affront to everyone who believes the US judicial system exists to protect US citizens and public health.

Why should you be outraged about this provision? For all these reasons:

·      The Monsanto Rider is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Judicial review is an essential element of U.S. law, providing a critical and impartial check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods. Maintaining the clear-cut boundary of a Constitutionally-guaranteed separation of powers is essential to our government. This provision will blur that line.

·      Judicial review is a gateway, not a roadblock. Congress should be fully supportive of our nation’s independent judiciary. The ability of courts to review, evaluate and judge an issue that impacts public and environmental health is a strength, not a weakness, of our system. The loss of this fundamental safeguard could leave public health, the environment and livelihoods at risk.

·      It removes the “legal brakes” that prevent fraud and abuse. In recent years, federal courts have ruled that several USDA GE crop approvals violated the law and required further study of their health and environmental impact. These judgments indicated that continued planting would cause harm to the environment and/or farmers and ordered interim planting restrictions pending further USDA analysis and consideration. The Monsanto rider would prevent a federal court from putting in place court-ordered restrictions, even if the approval were fraudulent or involved bribery.

·      It’s unnecessary and duplicative. Every court dealing with these issues is supposed to carefully weigh the interests of all affected farmers and consumers, as is already required by law. No farmer has ever had his or her crops destroyed as a result. USDA already has working mechanisms in place to allow partial approvals, and the Department has used them, making this provision completely unnecessary.

·      It shuts out the USDA. The rider would not merely allow, it would compel the Secretary of Agriculture to immediately grant any requests for permits to allow continued planting and commercialization of an unlawfully approved GE crop. With this provision in place, USDA may not be able to prevent costly contamination episodes like Starlink or Liberty Link rice, which have already cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The rider would also make a mockery of USDA’s legally mandated review, transforming it into a ‘rubber stamp’ approval process.

·      It’s a back-door amendment of a statute. This rider, quietly tacked onto an appropriations bill, is in effect a substantial amendment to USDA’s governing statute for GE crops, the Plant Protection Act. If Congress feels the law needs to be changed, it should be done in a transparent manner by holding hearings, soliciting expert testimony and including full opportunity for public debate.

If we allow this “Monsanto Rider” to be slipped into the FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, consumers and farmers will lose what little control we have now over what we plant and what we eat.

If you would like to join the hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens who have already written to Congress in support of the DeFazio amendment, please sign our petition here.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Ronnie Cummins is founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association. Cummins is author of numerous articles and books, including "Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers" (Second Revised Edition Marlowe & Company 2004). your social media marketing partner


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+52 # Barbara K 2012-07-07 10:44
Signed the petition already. I certainly hope they do not get immunity. They need to be held responsible for the havoc they are wreaking on our health and farmlands. What a travesty they are doing to us, and I hope the travesty isn't made greater by giving them a free ride to kill off Americans. Some countries are lucky not to have politicians be beholding to Monsanto. We desperately need to stop this.
+9 # Michael_K 2012-07-07 15:37
Watch your darling Obama fall all over himself in his rush to sign this abomination.

There are none so blind as those who WILL not see!
+10 # Hexalpa 2012-07-07 15:52
Quoting Barbara K:
Signed the petition already.
+7 # Barbara K 2012-07-07 16:40
Hexalps: The petition is at the end of the story, last sentence, last words above. Good luck and please, everyone sign it. Thanks.
+8 # X Dane 2012-07-07 20:02
Barbara, not only did I sign it. I also sent it to all my e-mail friends and URGED them to sign it to protect themselves and all they car about.
We should ALL do that
+28 # jlohman 2012-07-07 11:12
OF COURSE!!! Monsanto gives loads of campaign cash!!! Live with it, or fix it in November!
+39 # chrisconnolly 2012-07-07 11:26
This truly dangerous business allowing any corporation immunity and therefore impunity from the law is like saying any corporation that has enough money to buy a legislator can be granted GOD statis. We are doomed if we don't vote these charlatans out who are willing to sell all of humanity out for a few luxury items. How have we allowed this to happen?
+29 # Erdajean 2012-07-07 12:26
How INDEED? Our Congress is a hideous mess, loyal NOT to those who "elected" them, but to the corporate destoyers who REALLY pay them for their services against mankind!

Hierarchies of BOTH parties are dedicated to electing NO independent-min ded, thinking candidates who cannot be "remotely controlled."

How else, friends, can we in South Carolina be offered ONLY GOP dunces who follow orders -- or weird nuts, such as last term's Senate candidate,who refused to meet with public or press or share his "platform" with anyone? OR -- this year -- a congressional candidate who is a convicted felon -- endorsed by the state Democratic chair -- an insufferable jerk -- who declares this candidate fine because, he says, Congress is a bunch of felons anyway, and this one will fit right in!

How did we let ourselves get up against this brick wall? More important, how NOW do we get around it?
+12 # Michael_K 2012-07-07 15:38
STOP supporting either of the 2 dominant parties!!!!!
+9 # X Dane 2012-07-07 20:04
We have not ALLOWED it we have been cheated and hoodwinked.
+7 # Dean 2012-07-07 11:59
The only problem is, you do not show us the rider! I would like to see it word for word so I can be sure (unless I missed it somewhere in the essay; I did look carefully for it)
+28 # eaglew 2012-07-07 11:59
There is a very good chance that they may be able to legally buy their way to immunity.
Thank you Citizens United.
+36 # The Saint 2012-07-07 12:01
This is really scary. And what a statement about Citizens United and the audacious power of corporations. Wish we had the guts of Brazilian courts and fined the rear end off of Monsanto.They don't give a damn about the earth or people. Bottomline--pro fit and power. We need Vandana Shiva and others like her in Congress since Americans seem to have betrayed their legacy. It's time to begin the breakup of large corporations and get economic control back in the hands of the people. And send these kiss-up congress"men" back to their cubicles.Occupy Monsanto--and Congress.
+27 # seniorcitizen 2012-07-07 12:15
The possiblity of Monsanto being free to cause more havoc and wreak our food supply scares the bejeebers out of me! We cannot let this pass! The bible predicts a future worldwide famine. I do not see a good outcome of giving Monsanto carte blanch. This might happen unless we wake the poeple up who are passing the laws.
+26 # Timaloha 2012-07-07 12:17
Republicans support the Monsanto rider. Democrats oppose it. 'Nuff said?
+6 # Michael_K 2012-07-07 15:39
Quoting Timaloha:
Republicans support the Monsanto rider. Democrats oppose it. 'Nuff said?

The chief Democrat, the POTUS supports Monsanto. Don't believe me? Look at his appointments.
+6 # paulrevere 2012-07-07 22:23
you will get the red thumb for proferring such a dubious task there Michal_K...gree n from me though!!
+17 # oakes721 2012-07-07 12:56
Monsanto's FrankenFarmers are planting anonymous campaign contributions to buy the Laws they are planning to break ~ while our "representative s" are exhibiting the intestinal fortitude of a bunny rabbit.
+22 # Kathymoi 2012-07-07 14:04
It's time to begin the breakup of large corporations
+3 # Kev C 2012-07-08 14:00
With any luck the paybacks to Brazilian farmers will bust the Monsanto bank big time and maybe that will see the decline of this monstrosity.
But knowing them they will squeak through by the skin of their genetically modified teeth and slime their way to another coup on the legislation front......unle ss.......everyo ne gets their fingers out and signs, telephones and generally raises hell on earth with the reps and senators.
As stated further down I can't sign this as I am English and our postcodes don't work. But I did forward to friends over your side of the pond. I wish you the very best of luck. Seems to me that the entire legal system is corrupt and biased already so your mission is already up against it.
+31 # Adoregon 2012-07-07 13:04
As an organic farmer in Oregon, all I can say is AYSM?? (Are You Sh*tting Me?)

Thank you Peter De Fazio, for your amendment. You make me proud to be an Oregonian.

The rest of all y'all, get on the horn to your representatives and senators. This is a very big deal.

No one, and certainly no corporation can be allowed to be above the law or to be able to manipulate lawmakers in such a way that allows them to kiss off laws intended to protect our food supply and the health of all U.S. citizens.

Lets hear a resounding "hell no" to Monsanto, DuPont and any elected representative in favor of this travesty.
+3 # KittatinyHawk 2012-07-07 14:51
They already are
+4 # LML 2012-07-07 15:54
Another proud Oregonian.
It is interesting but no shocking that DeFazio's opponent received lots of out-of-state campaign contributions in th last election and although he won, he won by a significantly lower margin than he did in the previous election....
+3 # X Dane 2012-07-07 20:13
Also SIGN the petitions and have ALL the farmers you know kick up one hell of a ruckus. This is a matter...maybe of survival.
+19 # Street Level 2012-07-07 13:52
I just read that Farmers assume all liability by signing Monsanto contracts when they buy GE seeds.
Organic farmers who's crops get contaminated from drift not only get sued for patent infringement from Monsanto but have no other recourse but to sue the farmer who planted the GMO's.
The GM alfalfa seeds can live dormant in the soil for Years possibly contaminating generations of future plantings.
When the farmer sells his land, he must disclose the GM planting which just gives Monsanto a new "customer" for life.
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-07-07 14:53
Animals manure lay in fields, then rain...they water pollution There are Laws let's see we go all the way on this one and hammer them law, by law

Farmers Beware You are being Used, family and land poisoned Bon Apetit
+7 # Kathymoi 2012-07-07 13:56
Where can I sign a petition to support the amenddment removing the "farmers" assurance provision that is really the Monsanto assurance provision? Not that I believe a million or many millions of signatures of regular citizens will make a difference. Those who support legislatiion to protect and promote Monsanto appear not to care one hoot about what people want. (What do they care about? As elected officials, who are they representing?)
+5 # KittatinyHawk 2012-07-07 14:53
Groups listed above all have petitions
+2 # LML 2012-07-07 15:55
Where? Which groups?
Make it easy for us!!
+1 # paulrevere 2012-07-07 22:25
last line of article...
+4 # X Dane 2012-07-07 20:18
I do think if we all mobilize as many as possible to sign, that it WILL make a difference. But we MUST make it a BIG WAVE of consumer anger. We don't have the money. But we do have each other. Also we should write our senators.
+10 # paloda8705 2012-07-07 14:39
This possibility is so unconscionable and such a betrayal by our supposed governmental leadership that it is hard to comment. Somehow the people have to start fighting back, perhaps by continuing to protest and boycotting products and continuing to bury the federal congressman and senators that represent their district with emails voicing their opposing point of view. Also, when the opportunity to cast their vote arises, do it for someone who is not already bought and sold by Monsanto. This is undoubtedly wishful thinking, but given what I already know about the pure evilness of Monsanto and its minions(check out its history) if left unchecked its policies will lead to the destruction of the human race, a truly frightening prospect.
+3 # X Dane 2012-07-07 20:20
Right on paloda. We MUST take action
+6 # PatriotPaul 2012-07-07 15:37
Since the right-wing Supreme Court has declared that corporations are equal to U.S. citizens so logically how can any corporation be treated differently than you or me when it comes to the legal system? I say we MUST demand that CEO's and Boards that break the law be directly held accountable like other U.S. citizens. What's good for the goose... That would cause the Court to overturn its ruling quicker than a coffe enema would get me to the bathroom.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"
+1 # fredboy 2012-07-07 17:04
Of course they will gain immunity.
You won't.
I won't.
They will.
+7 # cordleycoit 2012-07-07 18:56
There's nothing like a bought off legislator to make the criminal poisoner into some sort exempt weasel and the honest citizen becomes the criminal for demanding the right to health. Trust the Republican Party to be engineer of destroying America's health. Is there a name for the shill who bought the Honorable Representative from GA's vote at the expense of America's health?
+4 # X Dane 2012-07-07 20:23
cordleycoit. YES CRIMINAL
+4 # btbees 2012-07-07 20:53
The link to sign the petition is:
+3 # pernsey 2012-07-08 02:33
"Whom do we have to thank for this sneak attack on USDA safeguards? The agricultural sub-committee chair Jack Kingston (R-Ga.)"

Hmmm, a republican, why am I not surprised?
+4 # seakat 2012-07-08 13:41
Not only have they decided we don't have the right to know what's in our food, their current 'selling point' is that we're anti-science Luddites. We must speak up every time those words are uttered as well.
+2 # Kev C 2012-07-08 13:53
I can't sign it unfortunately as I live in the UK. But what happens over there with you eventually is adopted by our dumb ass government for profit only. They have no idea of the harm this stuff does but they do know the colour and smell of money.
I did pass it on to a few contacts in the US and Canada (just in case they can sign it over the border) and I hope that the results of all the efforts on your parts is successful.
Here's hoping you win.
+4 # jayjay 2012-07-08 17:34
One more example of how worthless Congress is if it passes this clearly unconstitutiona l bill.
+2 # david webster 2013-01-14 17:43
monsanto is in court with many small farmers including me thru no falt of mine my soybeans became containated with the roundup ready gene in aprox 1% of the plants 1 bean in one pod had the roundup reay gene this was enough to kep the beans out of japan i asked monsanto to send a field rep to look at the field they refused to and said that the beans were not cotainated however if they are containated and sort that seed and use next year i am told they can take my crop this the lower value of the beans was over $15,000 they own the genes but take no liablty for damage to other david webter brussels ont 5198879299 i am not looking forward to going to court against monsanto they seem to have people in court

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