How The Monsanto Protection Act Passed

GMO Protest | Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr/Creative Commons License

With the nation's political news currently focused on gun control and gay marriage, it's easy to understand that not everybody is paying ultra-close attention to every little provision of every little bill that's being passed. But there's one group who should be, seeing as that's specifically what they're being paid to do, and that's members of Congress. But because they just skimmed rather than read an entire bill last week, there's a good chance our health is being put in danger.

Last week, President Obama signed into law H.R. 933, a sweeping piece of legislative that ostensibly keeps the government from shutting down by explaining where funds will be allocated for the rest of the fiscal year. A boring spending bill, in other words. But hidden in the bill's 107,000 words -- seriously, I sent the whole thing through a word count app -- is a section that changes how our country's legal system polices biotech giants like Monsanto:

Slipped into the Agricultural Appropriations Bill, which passed through Congress last week, was a small provision that's a big deal for Monsanto and its opponents.

The controversial "slipped in" part is the so-called "Monsanto Protection Act," Section 735 of the bill. It reads -- and if you're not a legally-minded person whose eyes don't glaze over whenever you see the word "notwithstanding," feel free to skip this section -- in full:

Sec. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary's evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary's authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.

On the surface it doesn't seem all that bad. Who doesn't like protecting plants? But the actual goal of this provision is a lot more diabolical.

Before the bill was signed, if there was a concern voiced in the federal court system regarding the safety of a GMO-laced crop, the court had the right to bar that biotech manufacturer from planting/harvesting/selling that crop until the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent over some of their analysts to take a closer look. Which makes sense. If someone gave you a drink and said "maybe it's poison," you'd probably wait for lab results to get back before giving it a sip. But now, after that sneaky provision was added to the spending bill? Not allowed.

What's perhaps the most eerie part of how this all went down is just how few people in Congress seemed to know what they were signing:

According to reports, many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the "Monsanto Protection Act" even existed within the spending bill, HR 933; they voted in order to avert a government shutdown.

Which is to say this is just evidence, once again, that there are some dirty, seedy, underhanded folks in the biotech business, and the one thing they don't need is less oversight. As Peter Lind at The Washington Times tries to remind everyone:

GMO's have never occurred in the history of the world until the past several decades. The timeframe is far too short to understand their impact on nature and human health.

And now, because of the Monsanto Protection Act, for the next six months -- until the provisions in the bill cease to be implemented -- we're living in a world in which the mentality surrounding GMOs is less "better safe than sorry" and a lot more "sink or swim."

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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