Last week, Congress quietly passed a controversial last minute addition to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill that has many food and consumer advocates up in arms. The addendum, which has been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” by critics, will protect companies like Monsanto from facing litigation in the face of health risks posed by genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
On Tuesday, while the rest of the nation was focused on gay marriage, President Obama silently signed HR 933 into law. The bill was originally designed to avert a government shut down and allow the federal government to (temporarily) keep paying its bills, but many consider the sneakily added provision to be a gift to Monsanto Company and other businesses invested in GMO’s.
Here’s the background from RT:
The provision, also decried as a “biotech rider,” should have gone through the Agricultural or Judiciary Committees for review. Instead, no hearings were held, and the piece was evidently unknown to most Democrats (who hold the majority in the Senate) prior to its approval as part of HR 993, the short-term funding bill that was approved to avoid a federal government shutdown.
Senator John Tester (D-MT) proved to be the lone dissenter to the so-called Monsanto Protection Act, though his proposed amendment to strip the rider from the bill was never put to a vote.
Critics are thus far alarmed by the very way in which the provision made it through Congress — the rider was introduced anonymously as the larger bill progressed through the Senate Appropriations Committee. Now, groups like the Center for Food Safety are holding Senator Mikulski (D-MD), chairman of that committee, to task and lobbing accusations of a “backroom deal” with the biotech industry.
As the Washington Times points out, the provision’s success is viewed by many as a victory by companies like Syngenta Corp, Cargill, Monsanto and affiliated PACs that have donated $7.5 million to members of Congress since 2009, and $372,000 to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
While the bill will only remain in effect for six months while the government finds a better means to fund its operations, the passing of the legislation sets an alarming precedent. By effectively barring federal courts from litigating the sale of potentially dangerous crops and seeds (there hasn’t been nearly enough research to make an informed decision on the safety of GMOs), Congress and President Obama sent the message that large corporations supersede consumer safety protections, if the price is right.