|Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
Essentially, it goes like this: a court decides that a GMO hasn’t been proven safe and stops all commercial use of it. The USDA can come back and give farmers the green light while they finish up environmental testing.
Of course, the anti-GMO crowd was outraged about this and nicknamed the provision the “Monsanto Protection Act.” (It’s always easy to blame something on the big bad corporation; isn’t it?) They claim that it’s a way for Monsanto to skate around the rules and avoid environmental testing. This is exactly how they’re avoiding regulations and doing whatever it takes to make a buck.
In reality, however, the bill is a whole lot less impressive. In fact, the USDA already really has the power.
“If you read the provision closely (it’s on page 78, Sec. 735, of this PDF), you’ll see that it authorizes the USDA to grant “temporary” permission for GMO crops to be planted, even if a judge has ruled that such crops were not properly approved, only while the necessary environmental reviews are completed. That’s an authority that the USDA has, in fact, already exercised in the past.
Back in 2010, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that the USDA had approved genetically modified sugar beets for commercial planting without adequately assessing their potential environmental impact. The ruling effectively banned future plantings of GMO sugar beets — which made up most of the country’s crop — and raised the specter of a sugar shortage.
So two giant biotech seed producers — Monsanto and Germany’s KWS — petitioned the USDA to issue a “partial deregulation”: Essentially, farmers got the go-ahead to keep planting the beets until the USDA’s environmental assessment of the crop was complete.”
(Source: NPR) What the provision really does it let the USDA know they actually do have this authority and Congress expressly authorizes them to use it.
See, the USDA seized power over GMO crops by labeling all genetically modified crops as “pests” until they have been approved, otherwise they had no power to regulate them at all (that was with the FDA).
The process for going from “pest” to de-regulated is arduous:
“The application process for this “non-regulated status” is as burdensome as FDA drug approval. It can take many years to demonstrate conclusively to USDA that no possible harm can result to the environment or to consumers from the crop, even if the crop is essentially identical to existing crops with just one gene change. Under the application process, a manufacturer cannot even plant outside or conduct tests openly without a USDA permit. After extensive lab tests, the plant must be tested outside for several growing seasons before it is approved for commercial sale.”
(Source: Skeptical Libertarian) Just as I’ve discussed before, it takes years, decades even, and a whole lot of money to show the federal government your product is safe. We aren’t just throwing this stuff outside and using a “wait and see” approach.
But even all that environmental testing is subject to other federal legislation:
“Every action by the federal government, however, has to have an environmental assessment along with it. So, even though the USDA has been testing and re-testing these seeds before they release them commercially, they have to do this assessment. Here’s where the anti-GMO folks get a shot.
Because the Environmental Assessment must consider any and all factors relating to the “human environment” (including aesthetics, economic changes, etc.), even if these effects are beneficial, anti-science groups can argue that the Environmental Assessment is insufficient if it doesn’t consider some factor. The insidious quack-factory Center for Food Safety has found that this is the easiest way to attack biotech development because it doesn’t need any actual science to sue.
In August 2010, the Center for Food Safety and some organic farmers who may stand to gain by injuring their competition managed to convince a court to void the five-year-old approval of GE sugar beet seeds. This decision, in effect, reverted the sugar beets to “pest” status. In November 2010, a federal judge ordered the sugar beet seedlings pulled from the ground, as required by law. But by this point, nearly 95 percent of domestic sugar beet production was from GE seeds. In other words, if the decision had stood, it could have destroyed as much as half of America’s granulated sugar production on purely procedural grounds.” (Source: Skeptical Libertarian)
If you’re a farmer and you’ve already purchased and planted your GMO seed, but the USDA hasn’t figured out whether or not the plants are “aesthetically pleasing,” a federal judge could require you to pull those plants out of the ground. As in the sugar beet scenario, this could be economically devastating not only for farmers, but also for anything that relies on that crop.
Can you imagine if this happened to corn?
The “Monsanto Protection Act” has nothing to do with Monsanto or any other bio-tech company. Rather, the Act has everything to do with protecting farmers. Once the USDA has given the green light, you can now safely purchase and plant your seeds without having to worry about whether or not the decision will be reversed by a judicial opinion. The USDA now has the power to put a temporary stop to the judicial intervention until the environmental assessment can be completed. We don’t have to wait to see if people think the plants are “pretty,” we can start using the new seeds with a little bit of security.
Not that the anti-GMO folks want to worry about pesky details or facts like that.