Protesters at the March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, BC, on May 25, 2013. (Sumitrarose/Flickr)
Other than reopening the government and averting a global financial crisis, one good thing about the funding bill passed last night was that it put an end to a corporate giveaway known colloquially as the Monsanto Protection Act.
Formally called the Farmer Assurance Provision, the measure undermined the Department of Agriculture’s authority to ban genetically modified crops, even if court rulings found they posed risks to human and environmental health. Republican Senator Roy Blunt worked with the genetically modified seed giant Monsanto to craft the initial rider, and it was slipped into a funding resolution that passed in March. There was concern that an agreement to end the shutdown would extend the provision, which is set to expire at the end of the month.
Jon Tester, a farmer and Democratic senator from Montana, removed the measure from the bill yesterday. “All [the Farmer Assurance Provision] really assures is a lack of corporate liability,” Tester argued in March. “It…lets genetically modified crops take hold across the country—even when a judge finds it violates the law.”
The Monsanto Protection Act incited strong opposition from food safety and civil liberties advocates, as well as food businesses, environmentalists and groups representing family farmers. Although it was temporary, the rider curtailed already weak oversight over the handful of agro-giants that control the GMO market by allowing crops that a judge ruled were not properly approved to continue to be planted.
Striking the rider from the continuing resolution probably won’t do much to limit Monsanto’s influence in Washington, unfortunately. The company knows how to work the revolving door: former chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Blanche Lincoln has recently been hired as a lobbyist. Monsanto spent $6.3 million on lobbying in 2011, surpassing all other agribusinesses besides the tobacco company Altria. Lately, the company has vigorously fought against state-led efforts to label GM foods, and reportedly lobbied for amendments to the Farm Bill to prohibit such labeling.
Meanwhile, Monsanto is facing at least sixteen lawsuits for failing to contain genetically modified wheat, which was found growing on an Oregon farm earlier this year. Concerns about the company’s aggressive patent policies and their implications for food sovereignty are global: this summer, Chileans protested a law protecting GMO manufacturers, and activists rallied in dozens of countries this weekend as part of the second “March Against Monsanto” demonstration.
The brunt of the government shutdown fell on the poor, reports Sasha Abramsky.