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March 28th, 2013

Monsanto Hitches a Ride on Must-Pass Budget Bill

Tell Congress you want GE foods labeledBy Patty Lovera

If there is one thing you can count on with this Congress, it’s drama over money. The month of March has seen plenty of funding fights, with sequestration in the beginning of the month and an ugly process to prevent a federal government shutdown at the end.  

One of the many problems with operating this way is how many opportunities for mischief are available when Congress is dealing with a huge package of “must pass” legislation. That’s exactly what happened last week when Congress passed a “continuing resolution” to fund the federal government for the rest of the year (the President signed it into law this week). This continuing resolution was necessary because Congress did not complete the normal process for setting budgets for federal agencies and the government has been running on an extension of the previous year’s budget that was about to run out.

Besides keeping the government open, the continuing resolution also contained two terrible “riders” that do more than set funding levels – they also change how USDA operates. The first stops USDA from enforcing contract fairness rules for contract poultry growers, allowing big chicken companies to continue to treat them unfairly. Food & Water Watch and hundreds of farm groups worked to include these vital provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill to protect farmers from unfair and deceptive practices by meatpacking and poultry companies.

The other rider is a giveaway to genetically engineered seed companies that would allow the continued planting of genetically engineered crops even when a court finds they were approved illegally. This provision unnecessarily interferes with the judicial review process and picked up the well-deserved nickname of the “Monsanto Protection Act” because it weakens the already inadequate review process for GE crops. And it isn’t a new idea – you may remember attempts last year to include this measure and two more that would have essentially created a fast track approval process for GE crops in the Farm Bill and in USDA’s budget.

Thankfully, the rider in the continuing resolution doesn’t include the other two provisions that create the fast track approval process. But it’s still terrible news that the biotech industry can convince members of Congress who should know better, like Senator Mikulski (D-MD) who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, to include any bad language like this in a must pass bill.

There were some Senators who wanted to remove these two bad provisions. But the heavy-handed and undemocratic process used to force the Senate to accept the deeply flawed bill didn’t allow votes on amendments by Senator Tester (D-MT) that would have removed these bad riders.

So after this poor showing by Congress, what’s next? For the next six months, USDA will operate under the policy set by the continuing resolution – not enforcing the contract fairness rules and with limited review by the courts over the GE crop approval process.

But by October 1, Congress has to pass new bills to fund federal agencies for fiscal year 2014. And we need to tell them to make sure these two bad policies aren’t in next year’s version.

In the meantime, there’s still plenty we have to do on the GE food front:

Tell Congress you want GE foods labeled;

Tell FDA not to approve GE salmon;

And finally, And tell USDA not to approve any more GE crops!

3 Comments on Monsanto Hitches a Ride on Must-Pass Budget Bill

  1. Judith Tiedemann says:

    I will share this with everyone I know, and I urge others to do the same. “Telling” Congress to do or not do something seems futile, as we’ve done this over and over. As long as they are allowed to sell their votes to the lobbyists for the big companies, they will continue to buckle under when they get to that last minute. As long as money is ever involved in Politics, there will be no justice for us, only Business as usual for those who have the big money.
    There is one other answer that I can think of, and that is to create, and use local currency. Only deal with local food producers, using that local currency, etc. It’s been being done in Ithaca for over 20 years and it works. As long as we are dependent on the Federal government and it’s greedy operational practices, we will have to do their bidding. If we don’t need them or their money, we won’t. Let’s try it. Move your money to a local Bank or Credit Union. Buy nothing from outside the USA. Support each other, not Wal Mart. We can make a change.

  2. Diana says:

    I am opposed to GE food period. At least label them. It is our right to choose what to eat.

  3. Evan Harriman says:

    I strongly request that no fast-pass legislation be included in the October bill to fund federal agencies.

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