By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
OK, we all know that this is how Congress works. It passes big bills with a passel of little bills attached to them, like barnacles on a ship. It’s almost necessary to get the job done. Otherwise elected officials would have to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging around and voting for laws, which would never work because they’ve got to get out and fund raise.
This is routine. But the process also opens the door to all those “pork” bills you hear about. And this week, there’s an especially noxious little barnacle trying to slide in on the hull of a big budget ship called the “Continuing Resolution.” The CR is what’s known as a “must pass” bill, because it must pass to keep government funded.
The barnacle or more properly, the rider, would exempt Monsanto from judicial review; or from Monsanto’s point of view, the “Monsanto Protection Act” would free it to practice business without cumbersome regulation.
It would work like this: Monsanto would apply for a new permit for a Genetically Modified (GM) seed. Inevitably, given the growing animosity toward unlabelled GM or GE foods in the US, someone would challenge the application, questioning the safety of the new seed or crop.
At that point, the law protecting Monsanto would kick in, directing the USDA to ignore the court challenge and allow the company to sell, plant and disseminate its product, literally spreading its controversial seeds, even though a judicial review was pending.
Monsanto, in effect, would be above the law and not subject, like individuals and other companies, to an injunction halting its activities while judges deliberated.
Why that’s unconstitutional you cry!
Yes, but that doesn’t stop the pecking away at government regulation. In 2005, for instance, the oil and gas industry slipped out of oversight by the EPA, which might have required cleaner drilling methods, when Congress obligingly passed the “Halliburton Loophole.” That loophole exempted oil and gas fracking from the Clean Water Act, despite the fact that the Clean Water Act was designed precisely to regulate companies such as oil and gas producers.
Many environmental and food safety groups are incensed about the Monsanto rider, especially those already worried about GM foods, like the Cornucopia Institute.
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund summed up the Monsanto rider this way:
“The provision is intended to force USDA to grant temporary permits and deregulations of GMO crops even if a Federal court rules that USDA hadn't adequately considered the environmental or economic risks to farmers. This would negate any meaningful judicial review of USDA's decisions to allow commercialization of GMO crops.”
Monsanto’s end run around regulation would essentially gutting critical oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to many food and farmers’ rights groups.
Unless…members of Congress reject Monsanto’s power grab.
Jon Tester (D-Montana), who’s developing a reputation as a champion of small businesses and family farmers, filed a counter measure to remove the Monsanto rider, along with a similar barnacle-bill that would allow meatpackers to seize more control of the meatpacking industry.
“Montanans elected me to the Senate to do away with shady backroom deals and to make government work better,” said Tester, in a news statement. “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.”
Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have joined Tester. Surely others will join them in removing the Monsanto rider and thereby keeping basic protections for consumers.
Still, the U.S. House was fine with these measures when it inserted them into the budget bill in December. Now just a handful of US senators stand between us and an industry stampede that could trample on our health, and our democracy.
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