unaware of its existence, but it turns out we have a senator from Monsanto's home state of Missouri to thank for it.Who was responsible for including an unrelated and seriously problematic biotech rider – nicknamed the "Monsanto Protection Act" – in the 2013 spending bill? It was originally introduced anonymously, with many members of Congress
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo) had no qualms about owning up to the fact he worked with Monsanto (which has donated plenty of campaign funds to him over the years) to craft the rider, which zaps the power of federal courts in the arena of approving genetically engineered crops. Basically, once Secretary Vilsack gives the okay of a newly engineered crop, the courts can't keep the farmers from growing it, even if a judge finds the crops were approved illegally. The debate over the safety of these crops continues (with a number of whistleblowers speaking up), but the fact that this provision overrides judicial review is a violation of food integrity, not to mention the constitutional notion of separation of powers.
President Obama signed the Continuing Resolution into law the last week of March, despite receiving more than 250,000 signatures petitioning against it. Without knowing who to blame for sneaking in the 'Monsanto Protection Act,' public pressure was then put on Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, whose committee is charged with overseeing the funding bill. Sen. Mikulski released a statement asserting her opposition to the biotech provision and explained that her "first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown." She had inherited the role of Chairwoman after the recent passing of Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) – who, according to Politico, was sympathetic to Monsanto given its significant operations in Hawaii – and wouldn't have let the rider in the way it did had she ran the committee earlier.
Some bit of good news is that the provision will expire in six months, when the next funding bill must be drafted. The Center for Food Safety is hopeful that, given Sen. Mikulski's role in overseeing the next Senate Appropriations bills, she will "now take up the mantle of leadership on this issue." The organization is already preparing to prevent the Monsanto Protection Act from being extended into fiscal year 2014.
Meanwhile, the movement to push adequate labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients continues, including a protest "eat-in" at the FDA this week. Monsanto, which contributed millions to stop California's GE food labeling effort and, might I add, lobbied in favor of anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bills on top of pushing these deregulation measures, is clearly not a fan of transparency and accountability. We're all about truth-telling here at FIC, and we condemn the agribusiness behemoth's constant attempts at evading responsibility – assisted by the likes of Sen. Blunt and others. You can stay in the loop with regular "Eye on Monsanto" updates in our monthly e-Newsletter.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.