President Obama and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) are among the politicians facing an angry backlash for recent passage of a provision that is being widely derided as the “Monsanto Protection Act.” Many Senators who voted to pass the provision, formally known as the “Farmer Assurance Act,” were not even aware of its existence. In a backroom deal, it was attached as a rider within H.R. 933, a continued resolution spending bill passed by Congress to allow the federal government to continue to pay its bills and avoid default.
President Obama signed the bill into law on March 26 in spite of the unprecedented protection given to Monsanto. According to the provision, Monsanto cannot be sued for health damages caused by its use of genetically modified food crops. Furthermore, even if significant health risks are discovered about those genetically modified crops, the government has no authority to ban them. Critics have charged that GMO crops have been inadequately tested and could cause damage to plants, contamination of non-GMO crops, and infertility in livestock, among other concerns.
No congressional hearings
Although legislative protocol called for congressional hearings to consider the new provision, there were none. The public outcry has been swift. More than 250,000 people signed a petition, initiated by the food safety watchdog group Food Democracy Now, calling on the president to veto the legislation. The petition also noted that while campaigning in 2007, Obama promised that if elected he would issue an executive order mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. That’s one of many campaign promises Obama has not kept.
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, was one of many people who challenged Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for allowing the provision to be inserted into the massive legislation without a proper hearing: “In this hidden backroom deal, Sen. Mikulski turned her back on consumer, environmental, and farmer protection in favor of corporate welfare for biotech companies such as Monsanto.”
The blatant disregard of public health and contempt for a transparent legislative procedures should come as no surprise. Since 2009, Monsanto and other giant biotech corporations, along with their Political Action Committees, have donated $7.5 million to members of Congress, including $372,000 to members of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.