Monsanto Provision Tucked in Spending Bill Draws Critics

by jeeg 3. April 2013 20:36

A plan to let farmers grow genetically modified crops developed by Monsanto during legal appeals has drawn criticism from food-safety advocates and backers of open government over how the proposal became law.

 

The measure, tucked into a bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, was backed by Republican Senator Roy Blunt from Monsanto's home state of Missouri. The provision allows farmers to plant products developed by the world's biggest seed seller while their approval is being challenged in federal court.

 

Critics including the Center for Food Safety and the American Civil Liberties Union have said the legislation passed last month allows Monsanto to circumvent due process and potentially place unapproved products into the U.S. food supply.

 

The provision, though, applies only to crop approvals overturned by a federal judge, and it probably won't have much effect unless extended beyond the bill's Sept. 30 expiration.

 

Still, in an era in which Congress has disavowed so-called earmarks to benefit home-state interests, the Monsanto-related measurer shows how lawmakers can still do so, said Josh Sewell, a policy analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, an open- government advocacy group in Washington. "This was done in secret, behind closed doors, and then it shows up in a bill right before a vote," Sewell said in a telephone interview. "This is just not how things should be getting done."

 

Neither Blunt's office nor Republican Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia, who was responsible for writing legislative language last year that included the provision, returned requests for comment yesterday.

 

The measure follows a decision by the USDA in 2011 that allowed farmers to plant Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets while the agency completed a court-mandated environmental impact statement. A federal judge in San Francisco ruled in 2009 that the USDA erred in approving the crop without more scrutiny.

 

Under the measure, first included in appropriations legislation last year, the USDA would be required to allow modified crops to be temporarily planted and sold into the food supply even after the approvals were invalidated in court.

 

Along with Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, ArborGen, and Syngenta are among firms that have genetically engineered plants pending regulatory approval.

 

Farm organizations representing growers of sugar beets, corn, soybeans and cotton, all of which have genetically modified varieties, support the measure.

 

The USDA is reviewing the provision as it may be unenforceable, agency spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said in an e- mail yesterday.

 

The National Farmers Union, the second-biggest U.S. farmer group, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sierra Club and others have criticized the concept.

 

Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who supported the overall spending bill, opposes the provision. Her office said in a statement it was part of an agreement on agriculture spending reached in 2012 -- before Mikulski took over as chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- that she didn't renegotiate.

Mikulski's "first responsibility" in shepherding the overall funding bill in the Senate was to prevent a government shutdown, spokeswoman Rachel MacKnight said in a statement. "That meant she had to compromise on many of her own priorities to get a bill through the Senate that the House would pass," MacKnight said.

 

During debate over the appropriations bill last month, Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and organic farmer, said the plan sets a "dangerous" legal precedent and shows the government supports companies at the expense of the public.

 

 Alan Bjerga & Derek Wallbank, Bloomberg

 

 

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