By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
When last we wrote about the notorious “Monsanto rider” tucked into the last big federal budget bill, it appeared to have attached itself magically to the legislation.
No one stood up and claimed ownership. Sen. Jon Testor (D-Montana) railed against the special treatment for Big Ag on the Senate floor. But not a peep was heard in response. The rider continued its stealth ride, and was approved, de facto, as Congress signed off on the budget bill in late March.
Now though, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) has been identified as the author of what’s been dubbed by critics the “Monsanto Protection Act.” No surprise there, Missouri is home to Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters, and Blunt has long been a booster.
Blunt is said to have worked directly with the biotech giant to craft the wording on rider which will allow Monsanto’s controversial genetically modified seeds to be planted even when there’s a court challenge pending about their safety.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, called the law an “unprecedented and really outrageous interference with our courts and the separation of powers” in an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.
This week, the media has piled on. Agriculture reporter Tom Philpott peels back the curtain on Blunt’s close ties to the biotech giant in an article in Mother Jones, and similar reports appear elsewhere.
We should be shocked, but sadly it sounds like business as usual. Monsanto is a generous contributor to Blunt — as we might expect. Blunt carries water for Monsanto.
Blunt received $88,000 from Monsanto in the 2012 campaign cycle via individual and PAC contributions, according to the campaign finance tracking group Open Secrets.
The company also gives to Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill (though at $$33,774, not quite so generously). It spreads the wealth and its message that GE seeds are safe throughout the U.S. capital, spending nearly $6 million in lobbying during the 2012 election cycle.
For the record, Monsanto says it believes wholeheartedly in the safety of its genetically engineered foods, and it maintains that the pesticide-resistance (typically to RoundUp) that’s engineered into these foods also is safe. It rebuts claims that its GE crops harm the soil (requiring increasing pesticide inputs) or threaten human health. It says hundreds of studies show that GE foods are safe; though critics complain there have been few truly independent studies and that the biotech firms conduct only short-term animal studies, which fail to shed light on possible long term effects.
The science, you might say, is undecided. But the more immediate question concerns the cash: Does all this Monsanto money muffle, even silence, the grassroots voices worried that GE foods are not safe and degrade the environment? It sure appears to be an impenetrable wall of cash.
But there is an upside to the story for those outraged by this latest corporate giveaway. The playing field may have become so unfairly tilted in favor of Big Biotech — which blitzes past questions about the safety of GE food and the impact of its pesticide-dependent products on the land — that the the backlash is growing.
Monsanto’s and Congress’ latest brass knuckles move has incited and united food activists. Many groups are promising a fight to keep the Monsanto Rider from becoming permanent when the budget bill on which it sidled in expires in September.
The “Monsanto Rider” debacle also has refueled several movements pushing for labeling of GE foods so consumers can at least have a choice in the marketplace. Disclosure would allow consumers to better vote with their dollars for the foods they want — organic, conventional non-GMO or GMO.
Here are some of the actions underway:
- Food Democracy Now! is calling on President Obama to issue an executive order to label GE or GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods. We’re not sure he has, or would take, that authority. But there is that federal agency called the USDA.
- Food & Water Watch continues to press for labeling for genetically modified foods, in the belief that when the science on safety is undecided, it’s best to take precautions. Labeling would allow consumers to opt out of GE foods. That sounds like a democratic, free-marketplace solution, as opposed to a marketplace serving Big Ag.
- The Organic Consumers Association isn’t waiting for labeling. It’s promoting a boycott of the brands that fought against labeling GMOs in the fight for labeling in California last year. You can see the list at their website. Don’t be surprised if some of your favorite natural and organic brands on listed. The consolidation of food companies has meant that many indie brands you loved were bought by the big global food companies that opposed food labeling. But while the battle over labeling rages, you can use this list to adjust your shopping priorities, if you choose.
- The Center for Food Safety continues to keep tabs on Capitol Hill, where several senators have denounced the Monsanto rider, including recently, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D- Md) head of the Appropriations Committee. Mikulski apologized for letting the rider through, and the Center for Food Safety suggests that Congress may be able to stop this special treatment for Monsanto when the new budget bill is passed in the fall.
- There’s a nascent move to Repeal the Monsanto Rider on SignOn.org.
- Millions Against Monsanto continues to raise awareness about the problems posed by engineered crops dependent upon pesticides.
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