In its short-term government-funding bill, the US Senate will propose an end to a budget provision that protects genetically-modified seeds from litigation despite possible health risks.
Called “The Monsanto Protection Act” by opponents, the budget rider shields biotech behemoths like Monsanto, Cargill and others from the threat of lawsuits and bars federal courts from intervening to force an end to the sale of a GMO (genetically-modified organism) even if the genetically-engineered product causes damaging health effects.
The US House of Representatives approved a three-month extension to the rider in their own short-term FY14 Continuing Resolution spending bill, which was approved last week by the lower chamber.
The Senate version of the legislation will make clear the provision expires on Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
“That provision will be gone,” Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told Politico.
Pryor chairs the Senate subcommittee on agriculture appropriations.
The Center for Food Safety said the Senate’s eradication of the rider was “a major victory for the food movement” and a “sea change in a political climate that all too often allows corporate earmarks to slide through must-pass legislation.”
“Short-term appropriations bills are not an excuse for Congress to grandfather in bad policy,” said Colin O’Neil, the Center for Food Safety’s director of government affairs.
The biotech rider first made news in March when it was a last-minute addition to the successfully-passed House Agriculture Appropriations Bill for 2013, a short-term funding bill that was approved to avoid a federal government shutdown.
Following the original vote in March, President Barack Obama signed the provision into law as part of larger legislation to avoid a government shutdown. Rallies took place worldwide in May protesting the clandestine effort to protect the powerful companies from judicial scrutiny.
Largely as a result of prior lawsuits, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is required to complete environmental impact statements (EIS) to assess risk prior to both the planting and sale of GMO crops. The extent and effectiveness to which the USDA exercises this rule is in itself a source of serious dispute.
The reviews have been the focus of heated debate between food safety advocacy groups and the biotech industry in the past. In December of 2009, for example, Food Democracy Now collected signatures during the EIS commenting period in a bid to prevent the approval of Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, which many feared would contaminate organic feed used by dairy farmers; it was approved regardless.
The biotech rider “could override any court-mandated caution and could instead allow continued planting. Further, it forces USDA to approve permits for such continued planting immediately, putting industry completely in charge by allowing for a ‘back door approval’ mechanism,” the Center for Food Safety said earlier this month upon news the House was reviving the measure.