HR 933, Section 735: Farmer Assurance Provision or Monsanto Protection Act?

Last Tuesday, President Obama signed the spending bill HR 933 into law, essentially functioning as a method to avoid a complete federal governmental by providing funding through September 30th, 2013. Since it was passed, the media has sensationalized section 735 of the bill, sparking outrage from anti-GMO activists.

This bill allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to override a judicial ruling that would otherwise stop the planting of a genetically modified crop.

Those opposing the bill have dubbed it the “Monsanto Protection Act” and have extrapolated terrifying implications from its language. The opposition’s major claim is that this bill will prevent the federal courts from being able to stop the planting, harvesting, or sale of genetically modified seeds… even if they are eventually found to be harmful to human health. This camp attacks the biotech giant Monsanto for their involvement in the writing of this bill, believing that this is a gateway to allowing dangerous crops grow unchallenged throughout the country.

However, while the title of “Monsanto Protection Act” is effective in inciting immediate outrage and conspiracy theories, the actual language of the bill tells a much different story. Alternatively titled the “Famer Assurance Provision,” section 735 actually has little to do with Monsanto.

In reality, this bill functions to protect farmers, rather than Monsanto. What this bill does is to grant farmers temporary permits which protect their existing crops and seeds should the safety of their crops come into question by the judicial system. This protects farmers from having to destroy their livelihood should say, the government later calls into question genetically modified seeds that were already purchased and planted legally.

Under this bill, nothing prevents the government from conducting testing on genetically modified organisms. Nothing prevents the government, farmers, or individuals themselves from suing a biotech giant such as Monsanto if their seeds were to be harmful or dangerous to our health. Nothing prevents the government from stopping the planting of crops that have been proven to have a health risk. Again, the only thing this bill prevents is the destruction of a farmer’s crop which is already in use.

It’s worth recalling a significant case from 2010 regarding sugar beets. Here, a federal judge decided to ban the planting of genetically modified sugar beets because he believed that the approval of these seeds years earlier was done without considering the full environmental impact. The problem was that genetically modified sugar beets made up 95% of sugar beet production, and sugar beets themselves supply half of the nation’s sugar. In this case, the government allowed a “partial-deregulation” of this ruling, allowing farmers to continue planting sugar beets under regulated conditions (and saving the country from an extreme sugar shortage) until the environmental impact ruling was published. When the ruling was published two years later, the sugar beets were found to have no risk.

This case illustrates exactly what section 735 of HR 933 does.

Now, I do take issues with some of Monsanto’s practices. I think that with all issues concerning GMO’s that testing transparency is key. However, these are not the issues being brought up in this bill. By degenerating into debates over the ethics of Monsanto, the distinctions between recombinant DNA technology vs. selective breeding, or general unfounded fears on GMOs, people are drawn further and further away from the real issue.

This bill was the perfect example of sensationalizing a simple deregulatory measure by bringing in unrelated fears and arguments. Taking this approach, rather than just taking a hard look at the language of the bill itself, is completely counterproductive to moving forward with innovative and high-tech agricultural production.

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