Capitalizing on the Drought

In the midst of the worst drought to hit the American agricultural industry since the 1950s, bio-agricultural giants Monsanto and Dow Chemical are attempting to quickly push their drought-resistant crops to market via the 2012 Farm Bill and 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The addition of several new biotech-friendly provisions to both bills may work against organic family farms and instead pave the way for widespread, unregulated genetically modified organism (GMO) contamination throughout the food supply.

In the Farmer Assurance Provision (Section 733) of the 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, dubbed the “Monsanto Rider,” the Secretary of Agriculture would be required to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a GM crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed. Additionally, any review of genetically engineered crops’ impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), or any other environmental law, or by any other agency other than the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be outlawed—and the USDA may be forced to allow continued planting of that same crop upon request, even if they find that the crop poses previously unrecognized risks. According to the Organic Consumers Association, GMOs have already been linked to thousands of toxic and allergic reactions, thousands of sick, sterile and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ and system in studied lab animals.

“There are dozens and scores of peer-reviewed articles building up that point out that when you feed these genetically engineered foods to animals, you do serious damage to their systems,” said Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association. “The public wants genetically engineered foods labeled and we want them properly safety tested before they’re pushed out into the environment and onto our plates in our kitchens and school cafeterias. This [rider] is not only a threat to public health, the environment and biodiversity; it’s a threat to the constitution.”

Furthermore, sections 10011-10014 of the 2012 Farm Bill could significantly weaken the USDA’s ability to regulate the use of GMOs by greatly narrowing the scope of the environmental assessment for genetically engineered crop approvals. It would also authorize the USDA to exempt certain genetically engineered crops from the regulatory review process and to make recommendations for the development of a national policy for the presence of bio-engineered material in crops. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would also no longer have the authority to regulate pesticide pollution under the Clean Water Act or to modify pesticide use based on the opinions of the National Marine Fisheries Services or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Grain and Feed Association (which represents more than 1,000 companies) and food safety advocacy organizations have been busy informing the public about what’s at stake if these provisions pass. Earlier this month, a letter signed by 40 organizations and businesses including the Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, National Family Farm Coalition and Organic Trade Association was delivered to Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) opposing the biotech riders.

“These reckless and unnecessary attacks on our food supply must not stand, and we join our colleagues in calling on Congress to make sure that they do not,” said Colin O’Neil, regulatory policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety.