We got hustled last Tuesday. The Supreme Court heard arguments about Proposition 8, and national attention was understandably fixated. Twitter exploded with pithy statements of support, Facebook turned into a sea of red equal signs (with a few contrary variations appearing on the pages of gay marriage opponents). Bloggers hung on every word emanating from the hearing.
Meanwhile across town, President Obama signed H.R. 933, a bill designed to mitigate some of the damage of sequestration and keep the government running through the end of the year. Contained within that bill, also known as the Continuing Resolution, was a rider inserted at the last minute by the Senate Appropriation Committee
It was a truly bipartisan effort. Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri worked closely with Monsanto—the Goldman Sachs of food production—to write the amendment, and Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski used her position as chair of the Appropriations Committee to ensure its quick and quiet passage.
By the time people realized what had just occurred, the bill was already out of Congress and on the way to the president’s desk.
The amendment—now popularly referred to as the “Monsanto Protection Act”—makes it so genetically modified seeds can be sold regardless of any future court findings about their health risks. In other words, let’s say a case comes before a federal court with compelling evidence that eating food from genetically modified seeds increases the risk of birth defects. And let’s say the federal court agrees and issues a ruling based on that evidence.
Thanks to Blunt’s amendment, Monsanto and other corporations who bag mega-profits from the sale of GMO seeds will be protected from any such ruling, regardless of how clear the evidence. They will be allowed to continue selling the seeds, and with the paucity of GMO labeling requirements in this country, people will have no way to know whether the food they eat is dangerous.
President Obama has taken some heat for signing the bill after the presence of the amendment was discovered, but it’s not as if he could have vetoed the entire Continuing Resolution over this issue, especially not after spending weeks publicly arguing for the necessity of compromise to get something done on sequestration.
Mikulski and Blunt probably deserve their fair share of scorn, but Senators performing the dirty work of their corporate masters is about as newsworthy as a redneck saying something racist. The bill is now law, and a repeal would never even get out of committee, much less be passed by the full Congress.
So are we screwed? Did Monsanto win? Not exactly.
By using this particular piece of legislation to get their immunity, the Monsanto faction made a crucial misstep. Everything contained within the bill is only applicable for six months, when the Continuing Resolution expires. At that point, unless the unexpected happens and Congress works out some kind of long-term budget solution (hint: it’s not going to happen), another Continuing Resolution will have to be passed.
And therein lies the opportunity. While it’s possible the six-month expiration was intended as some kind of inscrutable 12-dimensional chess strategy, the more likely explanation is arrogant myopia on the part of the Monsanto lobby. People who are consumed by power and greed—as one would have to be to knowingly put entire populations at risk in the name of profit—are often so obsessed with their gray whales that they miss the harpoon line around their own necks.
Public opinion and scientific research are very much on the side of those who advocate for caution in the use of genetically modified food. The fact that the Monsanto faction felt such a sense of urgency in getting this amendment codified into law speaks to the idea that they might be expecting some kind of damaging revelation in the near future. When this legislation expires in six months—possibly even before then—you can bet there will be an attempt to encode a more long-term fix for Monsanto and cronies into the law books.
Direct calls to action generally aren’t my thing, but in this case I’m going to make an exception. If you believe in the idea that Americans should have access to a healthful food supply, that we have the right to protect ourselves from the unforeseen consequences of half-blind genetic tinkering, then you have six months or less to make yourself a pain in the ass.
Write a letter to your congressman. Believe it or not, their offices actually do pay attention to constituent opinion, and handwritten letters seem to carry the most weight. Better yet, go (respectfully) bug them about it in person whenever they come back to your district. Write a letter to the editor. Talk to people who may be receptive but uninformed on the issue. Make some noise.
Monsanto tipped their hand with this one. Let’s make them regret it.