I published an article yesterday about the new Agricultural Appropriations bill and how an amendment in the bill will benefit biotech company Monsanto. Upon further reflection and given some feedback from IVN editors and contributors, perhaps the title and tint of the article was not reflective of the more “elevated” IVN discourse to which I have otherwise enjoyed being a part of.
Without denying the current debate surrounding the potential health effects of GMOs, it is important to clarify the scope of the so called “Monsanto Protection Bill,” and the name of the bill itself.
The text of Section 735 of the bill does not mention Monsanto by name, or any other biotech companies for that matter. Instead, the amendment provides that “a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer” may continue using genetically modified plants or seeds, whose authorization is contested in courts, throughout the review process.
When high profile companies such as Monsanto can be tied to a piece of legislation, it is easy to get trapped into reporting one side of the story, or miss the story altogether. The story should not be about how much money Monsanto paid its lobbyists last year. The real story should focus on the bill itself.
The reality is, the amendment is a practical legal measure that is less about Monsanto’s profits, and more about the economic realities for thousands farmers in the United States would face significant hardships if they had to stop their line of production every time a particular product was subject to judicial review.
In recent court cases, the approval of a GE crop, sugar beet and alfalfa, by the USDA was overturned by a judge. Each court decision was accompanied by a court ordered ban on the plantation of the crop until completion of further research. In both cases, the USDA ended up re-approving the GE plants only after further review. In the meantime, farmers lost millions of dollars and had to implement drastic changes in their entire farming production for what should not have been banned in the first place.
What the inappropriately labeled “Monsanto Amendment” could just as easily been called is “the Protection Against Activist Judges Amendment,” maybe this would fire up some other groups on the internet. But, more appropriately, the bill could and is named: “The Farmer Assurance Provision.”
Senator Blunt, who was instrumental in passing the amendment, summarized it in the following words: “What it says is if you plant a crop that is legal to plant when you plant it, you get to harvest it.”
The bill will indirectly benefit the companies producing the crops, including Monsanto, because they will be able to continue to sell crops. But it is important the underline that the bill’s primary targets are farmers.
While concerns over the consequences of the amendment on food health remain legitimate, it is unfair to insinuate that there were not good government goals behind the measure backed by Senator Blunt or Monsanto.
It is not unusual for two legitimate interests like farmers’ rights and food safety to conflict. Without conflict, why would we need government?
But in addressing these conflicts, fair weight must be given to each side. As I said before, with a company such as Monsanto in the picture, it is easy to get trapped into reporting one side of the story. Perhaps I fell into that trap.