Politifact & The Daily Show & The Huffington Post & Associated Press – 2013-05-27 22:40:36
Group Says Monsanto Law Skirts Courts, Requires Approval of Genetically Engineered Seeds
WASHINGTON, DC (May 29, 2013) — Have you heard of the Monsanto Protection Act? That’s the name critics have assigned to a section of the continuing resolution which Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed on March 20, 2013, that keeps the federal government operating through the end of the fiscal year.
Tucked into Section 735 of the law is a provision relating to the regulation of genetically engineered crops that has food safety activists up in arms.
We’ve seen a number of claims about this legislation, on Facebook in particular. This one, from the group Grow Food, Not Lawns, caught our eye:
The law “requires the USDA to approve the harvest and sale of crops from genetically modified seed even if a court has ruled against the crop as being dangerous to public safety or the environment.”
That’s a hefty statement about a hot issue. We decided to look further.
Sugar Beets and the Regulatory Process
Missouri-based Monsanto is the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seeds, which are regulated by the USDA. The agency is required, under the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA, to study them for environmental impacts, such as their effect on other crops and their risk of becoming a pest plant. (The USDA does not assess the seeds in terms of food safety — that’s the job of the FDA and is not addressed in this law.)
This process landed in court in 2009, when Monsanto petitioned for approval of a sugar beet genetically engineered to be resistant to a Monsanto brand of herbicide. The USDA conducted a preliminary environmental study that found that the beet’s introduction into agriculture would have no significant impact on the environment and gave its approval. The Center for Food Safety sued USDA, saying it had not completed an adequate NEPA review, and the courts agreed, sending USDA back to complete the study.
It’s important to note that the court ruling didn’t say the beets were unsafe; it simply said that an adequate environmental review hadn’t been done.
“It took USDA more than a year to do the analysis, but farmers were growing these sugar beets,” said Greg Jaffe with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “USDA issued temporary permits while they continued the analysis, with conditions to ensure it didn’t impact the environment. They had the discretion to do that.” Ultimately, Jaffe said, USDA finished its study and approved the crop.
So, What’s New?
The attachment in the budget bill, known as a “rider,” essentially puts into law the practice described in the sugar beet case.
“The language in Section 735 codifies existing USDA authority and elements of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that lower courts should not automatically prohibit the planting of biotech crop varieties, or the harvest and sale of biotech crops already planted, if/when their commercial use is temporarily banned because of a lawsuit,” said Karen Batra, spokeswoman for the Biotech Industry Organization.
“This applies to products that have ALREADY gone through the approval process and already been deregulated by FDA and therefore deemed to be safe for human health and the environment. If the secretary believes that the crop at issue poses a risk in any way, he can forbid its use.”
Jaffe added, “I don’t think it provides USDA with any new legal authority that they didn’t already have, although clearly it’s Congress telling USDA that they should use that authority wherever possible.”
The text of the law says “In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation…”
The words — “shall immediately grant” — are alarming activists who are already suspicious of genetically modified products dominating the food supply.
“It goes a step beyond by forcing the agency to approve those permits or partial deregulation,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety, the group that filed suit in the sugar beet case. “There’s an urgency written into the law that is going to stifle sound science and science-based regulation.”
“It kind of takes the courts out of the game,” added Patty Lovera of the group Food and Water Watch. Jaffe, however, noted that the USDA would still have to adhere to existing guidelines in the approval process, such as ensuring that products comply with the Plant Protection Act.
When we contacted the USDA about this claim, a spokesman sent us this statement:
“(Agriculture) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack has asked the Office of General Counsel to review this provision as it appears to pre-empt judicial review of a deregulatory action, which may make the provision unenforceable.”
The group Grow Food, Not Lawns claimed that the budget bill “requires the USDA to approve the harvest and sale of crops from genetically modified seed even if a court has ruled against the crop as being dangerous to public safety or the environment.”
We learned from experts that the USDA issuing temporary permits for products in litigation is not new with this law. That was already the agency’s practice. And in the sugar beet case that went to court, the dispute was not over the safety of the food but the environmental review procedure.
However, the language in the law saying the USDA “shall” issue permits escalates that policy, with one expert telling us it “compels” the agency to allow the use of disputed products while litigation proceeds. And now the USDA itself is now questioning whether that provision is enforceable.
The Facebook claim rightly describes the effect of the new provision, but lacks some important context. We rate it Half True.
Jon Stewart Explains the Monsanto Protection Act
Jon Stewart / The Daily Show
‘Monsanto Protection Act’ Repeal Effort Officially Backed By Sen. Jeff Merkley
The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON, DC (May 20, 2013) — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) confirmed on Sunday that he is proposing an amendment to the upcoming farm bill that would eliminate the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
Officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, the controversial agricultural provision was surreptitiously tucked into budget legislation — passed by Congress in March and signed into law by President Barack Obama — that was intended to avoid a government shutdown. The provision, which the public at large caught wind of only after the bill’s passage, allows agricultural companies such as Monsanto to ignore court orders against selling genetically-engineered seeds.
As HuffPost’s Ryan Grim explained last week:
Federal courts have recently ruled that the US Department of Agriculture had failed to consider the potential harm some genetically engineered crops may have, and acted too hastily in approving their sale. The industry fought back with the [Monsanto Protection Act], preventing the enforcement of court rulings.
Monsanto, which does significant business in genetically-modified seeds and recently fought a successful Supreme Court battle to protect its interest in them, was reportedly involved in crafting the legislation.
Merkley sent an email to supporters on Sunday, in which he called the measure “one of the most outrageous special interest provisions in years,” and declared his intention to kill it.
Merkley’s full email stated:
It’s one of the most outrageous special interest provisions in years.
Written anonymously, the Monsanto Protection Act allows corporations to sell genetically-modified seeds even when federal courts have blocked them from doing so.
Think about that: We have a process for making sure that genetically-modified seeds aren’t sold, planted and grown until we know that they don’t pose a threat to other crops or to humans.
The Monsanto Protection Act overrides that process. It lets Monsanto and others ignore a court order designed to protect other farmers, the environment, and human health.
That’s just wrong.
And even worse, the Monsanto Protection Act was passed in secret, stuffed quietly into the budget bill that averted a government shutdown.
That’s why I’ve proposed an amendment to the Farm Bill that would repeal the Monsanto Protection Act. Please join me — and demand a vote in the US Senate that would end this outrageous special interest override of judicial decisions.
Note: An aide for Merkley previously signaled the senator’s intention to repeal the bill last week.
‘March Against Monsanto’ Protesters Rally Against US Seed Giant And GMO Products
LOS ANGELES (May 25, 2013) — Protesters rallied in dozens of cities Saturday as part of a global protest against seed giant Monsanto and the genetically modified food it produces, organizers said.
Organizers said “March Against Monsanto” protests were held in 52 countries and 436 cities, including Los Angeles where demonstrators waved signs that read “Real Food 4 Real People” and “Label GMOs, It’s Our Right to Know.”
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply.
Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified. But critics say genetically modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment. The use of GMOs has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling of genetically modified products even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.
The `March Against Monsanto’ movement began just a few months ago, when founder and organizer Tami Canal created a Facebook page on Feb. 28 calling for a rally against the company’s practices.
“If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success,” she said Saturday. Instead, she said an “incredible” number of people responded to her message and turned out to rally.
“It was empowering and inspiring to see so many people, from different walks of life, put aside their differences and come together today,” Canal said. The group plans to harness the success of the event to continue its anti-GMO cause.
“We will continue until Monsanto complies with consumer demand. They are poisoning our children, poisoning our planet,” she said. “If we don’t act, who’s going to?”
Protesters in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina, where Monsanto’s genetically modified soy and grains now command nearly 100 percent of the market, and the company’s Roundup-Ready chemicals are sprayed throughout the year on fields where cows once grazed. They carried signs saying “Monsanto-Get out of Latin America”
In Portland, thousands of protesters took to Oregon streets. Police estimate about 6,000 protesters took part in Portland’s peaceful march, and about 300 attended the rally in Bend. Other marches were scheduled in Baker City, Coos Bay, Eugene, Grants Pass, Medford, Portland, Prineville and Redmond.
Across the country in Orlando, about 800 people gathered with signs, pamphlets and speeches in front of City Hall. Maryann Wilson of Clermont, Fla., said she learned about Monsanto and genetically modified food by watching documentaries on YouTube.
“Scientists are saying that because they create their own seeds, they are harming the bees,” Wilson told the Orlando Sentinel. “That is about as personal as it gets for me.”
Chrissy Magaw was one of about 200 protesters who walked from a waterfront park to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Pensacola. She told WEAR-TV that knowing what you eat and put into your body is the most important decision you make every day.
In Birmingham, Ala., about 80 protesters turned out at Rhodes Park, some dressed as bees and butterflies, Al.com reported.
SI Reasoning, an activist, artist and musician who lives in Vestavia, Ala., described Monsanto’s handling of GMOs as a “huge, uncontrolled experiment on the American people.”
Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, said that it respects people’s rights to express their opinion on the topic, but maintains that its seeds improve agriculture by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving resources such as water and energy.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically modified foods to carry a label, but organic food companies and some consumer groups have intensified their push for labels, arguing that the modified seeds are floating from field to field and contaminating traditional crops. The groups have been bolstered by a growing network of consumers who are wary of processed and modified foods.
The US Senate this week overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would allow states to require labeling of genetically modified foods.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a lobbying group that represents Monsanto, DuPont & Co. and other makers of genetically modified seeds, has said that it supports voluntary labeling for people who seek out such products. But it says that mandatory labeling would only mislead or confuse consumers into thinking the products aren’t safe, even though the FDA has said there’s no difference between GMO and organic, non-GMO foods.
However, state legislatures in Vermont and Connecticut moved ahead this month with votes to make food companies declare genetically modified ingredients on their packages. And supermarket retailer Whole Foods Markets Inc. has said that all products in its North American stores that contain genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018.
Whole Foods says there is growing demand for products that don’t use GMOs, with sales of products with a “Non-GMO” verification label spiking between 15 percent and 30 percent.
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