Last week, Congress and the president managed to avoid a government shutdown with a continuing resolution that funds the federal government for the next six months.
Unbeknownst to most lawmakers, a last-minute rider, nicknamed the "Monsanto Protection Act," found its way, anonymously, into the continuing resolution before President Obama signed it last Tuesday.
Senator Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana, was outraged. "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," he said.
As Tom Philpott, food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones, explains, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has to approve genetically-modified crops before companies could sell the seeds to farmers. In 2008 and 2009, the Center for Food Safety, along with other environmental groups, sued the USDA in federal court, claiming that the USDA approved two genetically engineered crops without a detailed environmental impact statement.
The Center for Food Safety won the suit in both cases, but the rider on this year's continuing resolution would bar environmental groups from suing the USDA for these purposes.
The Monsanto Company declined The Takeaway's request for an interview, but they released the following statement:
As a member of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), we were pleased to join major grower groups in supporting the Farmer Assurance Provision including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Cotton Council, and several others.
The point of the Farmer Assurance Provision is to strike a careful balance allowing farmers to continue to plant and cultivate their crops subject to appropriate environmental safeguards, while USDA conducts any necessary further environmental reviews. The attached letter, submitted by the industry in June 2012, should provide you with additional information and context about what the provision is intended to accomplish.
A broad bipartisan group of legislators in both the House and Senate have supported the provision dating back to June 2012, and it passed with broad bipartisan support.