Debbie Stabenow Pledges To Oppose Monsanto Protection Act Extension Without Full Debate

by jeeg 6. June 2013 21:09

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, pledged to oppose the extension of the so-called the Monsanto Protection Act, a victory for advocates who have been pressing for its repeal.

Stabenow made her pledge in a conversation with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who has been pushing the Senate to vote on an amendment to the farm bill that would repeal the provision. That vote was blocked by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and on Thursday morning the Senate voted to end debate and move to final passage.

When two senators have a pre-arranged public conversation on the Senate floor, it's known as a colloquy and is typically the bow that ties up a deal struck beforehand. While Merkley was unable to get a repeal vote, the colloquy is a significant concession, with Stabenow promising she will oppose any attempt to extend the Monsanto Protection Act in backroom negotiations.

Monsanto is a global seed and herbicide company that specializes in genetically modified crops. The MPA prevents judges from enforcing injunctions on genetically modified seeds even if they are deemed unsafe. Monsanto has argued that it is unfair to single the company out in the nickname for the law, which is technically known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, when other major agribusiness players also support it.

The measure was originally enacted into law by being inserted into an unrelated spending bill and is set to expire later this year. "The Monsanto Protection Act refers to a policy rider the House slipped into the recently passed continuing resolution and sent over to the Senate," Merkley noted on the floor. "Because of the time-urgent consideration of this must-pass legislation -- necessary to avert a government shutdown -- this policy rider slipped through without examination or debate."

"I wish to assure my friend that I think it would be inappropriate for that language to be adopted in a conference committee or otherwise adopted in a manner designed to bypass open debate in the relevant committees and this chamber," Stabenow told Merkley. "I will do my best to oppose any effort to add this kind of extension in the conference committee on this farm bill or to otherwise extend it without appropriate legislative examination."

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Blunt made the case for the MPA, arguing that the measure aimed to protect farmers who had already purchased seeds that were later deemed unsafe. "I was raised -- my mom and dad were dairy farmers -- once you've made a decision to plant a crop for that year, you can't go back and undo that decision," he said. Requiring Monsanto or other seed companies to compensate the farmer for lost income wasn't a viable strategy, he said, if the seeds had previously been okayed before the court ruling. "You can't sue them for selling a crop that the federal government said is okay to plant," he said.

The measure enables the secretary of the Department of Agriculture to block a judicial injunction and allow the planting of a seed. The USDA, he said, called the provision redundant. "All that did was repeat authority that the secretary in a hearing the other day ... said he already had," Blunt said. "And it didn't require the secretary to do anything that the secretary thought was the wrong thing to do. Which is one of the reasons I thought it was fine."

Merkley's repeal effort saw an outpouring of grassroots support, and a petition announced by his office quickly garnered more than 100,000 signatures. A petition put out by Food Democracy Now, which organized a protest at the White House shortly after the MPA became law in March, similarly picked up a quick 100,000 signatures, and a petition pushed by CREDO Action, an online progressive group with some three million members, did the same.

"That's big for us, the fact that it went from zero to 100,000 just in 24 hours," Becky Bond, the head of CREDO, told HuffPost at the time. "People are really passionate about this issue. A lot of the time people feel helpless with regard to corporate decisions ... The fact that there's someone in the Senate who's fighting for this is exciting to people and they're eager to get their names on it."

Ryan Grim, Huffington Post


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