April 2 2013
Oops! The "Monsanto Protection Bill" Doesn't Protect Monsanto
Okay…everyone take a deep breath…
The so-called “Monsanto Protection Bill” doesn’t protect Monsanto. It protects you and me and farmers.
I know it’s hard, but try to ignore what your ill-informed friends are saying on Facebook and Twitter. Turn away from your hysterical sister-in-law who can’t stop crying because Monsanto’s taking over the world. Take with a grain of salt the less-than-scientific writing that’s been done so far on this big, fat non-emergency. Disregard what the radical environmentalists and food nannies are saying about this bill because it simply isn’t true that this bill was designed to benefit Monsanto. Simply put, this is yet another attempt to scare you into accepting more regulations on the food and biotech industries.
Environmentalists and those who rail against genetically modified foods are savvy activists. They know that by invoking the name “Monsanto,” they can rely on an army of easily led, anti-Monsanto activists to lose it over what amounts to a small technical rider attached to the Continuing Resolution that passed Congress and signed by environmental hero President Obama last week.
The goal of this rider (actually titled the “Farmer Assurance Provision”) isn’t designed to help a particular company. Instead, the bill is designed to protect farmers and consumers from being tangled up in the seemingly endless number of frivolous lawsuits brought against biotech companies from radical environmental organizations (lawsuits that can be based on something as silly as paperwork errors).
Frankly, the rider isn’t really even that interesting. As Greg Conko at CEI put it (emphasis mine), the bill simply “codifies existing USDA practices and elements of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that lower courts should not automatically prohibit the planting of biotech crop varieties, or the harvest and sale of biotech crops already planted, when their commercial approval is revoked for procedural reasons.”
Got that? Let me put that in layman’s terms. The bill says that if some environmental group sues a seed company, the farmer (who, has already bought the seeds), can still plant those seeds while the lawsuit continues through the courts. So, this claim that the bill protects Monsanto from lawsuits is patently false.
Environmental groups are still free to sue their (cold, dead) hearts out; nothing (not even this bill) will prevent them from suing. It only protects the dude who bought the seeds—that’s the farmer. Without this bill, a judge could, if he wished, order a farmer to scrap his entire harvest if the seed he used at planting suddenly became the target of a lawsuit.
It also prevents the seeds from being taken out of the marketplace prior to the seeds being purchased. That’s critical because those who criticize the bill often say that farmers simply wouldn’t be allowed to purchase certain seeds pending the outcome of these lawsuits. But what kind of defense is that? Do we really want some wacky environmentalist group dictating to farmers what kind of seeds they can and cannot use? Especially if they are able to bring a halt to the sale of certain seeds so easily through simply suing seed companies? And how long would these seeds be off the market? By allowing environmental groups to take certain seeds out of the marketplace via lawsuit, that offers them a pretty big incentive to keep the frivolous lawsuits coming.
Farmers, not green activists, should be in charge of deciding what they want to plant in their fields.
As a writer on food issues, I often see environmentalists and foodie types defend farmers. They decry modern agriculture methods and advocate a return to a simpler style of growing food (like plows pulled by horses...fun!). Yet if they truly cared about farmers they’d stop spreading these lies about this simple provision in the Continuing Resolution—a provision designed to help farmers.
If food writers really cared about farmers, they’d take a moment away from trying to find the perfect gluten-free, organic, happy chicken taco truck to consider, for just a moment, what it must be like to be a farmer in today’s hyper-litigious society.
The reality is farmers live under constant threat that they could lose their crop due to the use of nuisance litigation. CEI’s Conko also explains this strategy saying that these lawsuits are often used “to overturn the approval of biotech crops on the grounds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture improperly documented its evaluation of potentially negative “environmental” effects. Because the National Environmental Policy Act requires agencies to consider and fully document not only ecological impacts, but also any possible economic, social, cultural, historic and aesthetic effects, it offers fertile ground for bad-faith, obstructionist lawsuits for what amounts to mere paperwork violations.”
Those filing these nuisance lawsuits simply don’t care if the action costs a farmer millions in wasted crops. This bill protects farmers and it protects consumers who want fresh and healthy food at reasonable prices. Without protections like the one signed into law by President Obama last week, healthy food could become even more expensive.
That’s the real reason to be alarmed!