Our founding fathers, white maleness aside, did get a few things right. One of them was the concept of “separation of powers,” which ensures a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. But a dangerous provision snuck into the budget bill passed last week in Congress upends that system. Without any hearings on the matter, the Senate included language that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to essentially ignore any court ruling that would otherwise halt the planting of new genetically engineered crops. Here is how Capital Press explains it:

The rider pertains to transgenic crops that have been deregulated by the USDA but then had that approval overturned by a judge — a scenario that has occurred with genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets. In such a situation, the agency “shall” immediately issue permits or a partial deregulation order that would temporarily allow farmers to continue growing and selling the crop until USDA is done re-evaluating its environmental effects, according to the rider.

Why is this such a big deal? The court system is often our last hope, with Congress, the White House, and regulatory agencies deep inside industry’s pocket. Several legal challenges have resulted in court decisions overturning USDA’s approval of new GMO crops, for example, sugar beets. So the biotech industry, unable to make its case to a judge, figured why not just rewrite the Constitution instead, with the help of a Democratic Senate led by Senator Barbara Mikulski, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Despite Montana Senator Jon Tester’s best attempts to stop the so-called biotech rider, the measure was pushed through. (Industry had tried to get a similar measure passed more than once last year.) Tester minced no words in an article in yesterday’s POLITICO about this and other industry power grabs such as weakening small farmer protections:

These provisions are giveaways, pure and simple, and will be a boon worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country. They deserve no place in this bill. We simply have got to do better on both policy and process.

If President Obama signs the budget deal with this provision, it could have long-lasting and serious consequences. This list of pending petitions to USDA to approve genetically engineered crops includes new versions of corn, soybean, canola, and cotton. Once these crops get planted, it will be too late to do much about it. That’s why groups such as the Center for Food Safety file lawsuits when USDA turns a blind eye to the potentially harmful environmental consequences of these unique crops. Here is how Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety described the situation:

In this hidden backroom deal, Senator Mikulski turned her back on consumer, environmental, and farmer protection in favor of corporate welfare for biotech companies such as Monsanto. This abuse of power is not the kind of leadership the public has come to expect from Senator Mikulski or the Democrat Majority in the Senate.

The biotech industry, with the help of Congress, is attempting an end-run of the judicial system. Since judges can’t get be bought off, just go to your friends in Congress instead. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media has not picked up on this unprecedented Big Biotech power grab, and in the case of NPR, has even spread misinformation about the rider’s effects:

But a closer look at the language of the provision suggests it may not be granting the USDA any powers it doesn’t already have. “It’s not clear that this provision radically changes the powers USDA has under the law,” Greg Jaffe, director of the Biotechnology Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells The Salt.

This interpretation was echoed, unsurprisingly, by the biotech industry, in Capital Express:

“It doesn’t require the USDA to do anything it wouldn’t otherwise have the authority to do,” said Karen Batra, communications director for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “The language is there to protect farmers who have already made planting decisions.”

But as Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety explains, the new language makes what is currently discretionary or optional on USDA’s part mandatory, a huge difference:

The word “shall” forces the USDA to continue allowing biotech crop cultivation even if its commercialization was overturned. They’ve taken away the discretion of the secretary of agriculture. Its real not-so-hidden purpose is to take away the ability to effectively vacate the approval of a crop that’s been approved illegally.

If there is any good news, it’s that the continuing resolution the provision hitched a ride on is only valid for six months. But industry seems confident it can make the workaround permanent. Likely what will follow is a protracted court battle over the policy’s constitutionality; remember that whole separation of powers thing? Still, any such legal challenge will likely take years to be resolved. Even USDA thinks the provision is unconstititional. Secretary Vilsack’s office told POLITICO that he has asked the Office of General Council to review the language, “As it appears to pre-empt judicial review of a deregulatory action which may make the provision unenforceable.” Meanwhile, the grassroots movement continues to grow to demand labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. While important, we cannot let labeling distract us from pro-biotech policies at the other end of production. The fewer GMO crops that are allowed to be planted in the first place, the fewer end products containing GMOs. But it’s not too late. You can still demand that President Obama refuse to sign the budget bill into law unless the biotech rider (aka Monsanto Protection Act) is removed. Food Democracy Now! has already gathered more than 175,000 signatures demanding Obama do the right thing. From that organization’s action alert:

By sneaking Section 735 into a federal appropriations bills, Monsanto has successfully planted a dangerous provision in U.S. law that strips judges of their constitutional mandate to protect American’s health and the environment while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new, untested genetically engineered crops. Even if their new GMO crops are ultimately proven to be harmful to human health or the environment, Section 735 allows them to be planted the minute the USDA approves them! Even more alarming, currently 13 new crops are awaiting approval at the USDA and AquaBounty’s GMO salmon is on the verge of being approved by the FDA. This new provision opens the door wide open for these approvals.

If the biotech industry can so easily override our court system, which is our last resort in stopping these dangerous crops from being planted, we will have no place left to turn. And Monsanto will have completed its hostile takeover of the U.S. government. Take action now by calling and emailing the White House here. Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that Senator Barbara Mikulski was the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, when in fact she is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.

  • Mike

    As a molecular biologist, genetically modify crops do not scare me at all that they seem to do with the uneducated public. However, I do disagree with Monsanto’s tactics of protecting their intellectual property (i.e. RoundUp resistant seeds), by suing the farmers, who either accidently have some RoundUp ready seeds due to neighboring fields using RoundUp ready seeds or not doing do a good job (accidently or purposely) sorting Monsanto seed from the unmodified seeds, into oblivion. Seems that riders on budgets are not as much about “pork” in the budgets, but sidestepping court-ordered regulation. And then the consequences of either years of trying to repeal this rider or have the budget veto’d ourtight and for what? Money in the pockets of those voted in by us. I guess money talks and idealism and common sense walks. Way to go Senator Mikulski, you truly are a sell out!

    • non_fiction

      What about molecular biology makes you so confident in GMO garbage? U like GMO corn?

      Have a look….

      I must say, ignorance is not only bliss but tasty!

      • Mike

        For every one cherry-picked article, there are 41 scientific ones that counter that


        • non_fiction

          So a reply with an article from a pro GMO biased site that references “cherry picked” papers from 1996 (when GMO was in its infancy) to 2004 helps the public how? How about one listing the nutritional/chemical composition of GMO corn so people can compare with mine?

          One thing your article did indicate is that two papers did indeed report negative effects. I can think of some negative affects… organ failure, allergies, cancer, death to name a few.

          Here are some negative affects with pictures for your viewing pleasure (2012 article):

          How about the numerous negative accounts in another 2012 article :

          Safe? Obviously not.

          Mounds of evidence show bad things happening to animals after consuming GMO foods, and to deny it or believe that humans are immune is lunacy. Additionally, considering that the large corporatized, pro-GMO culture of mainstream payola science is promoting the crap, it would be prudent for all to err on the side of extreme caution. Bon Appatit!

          • Weather or not you are correct I could not honestly say. However, your citations are not relevant to me unless they themselves site scientifically based research that follows the scientific method and has legitimate funding sources. You feel strongly against GMO, and are hoping to share that passion with others to help educate. Prove your side with peer reviewed articles/journals. Otherwise you’re just linking some random dude(et) on the internet who may or may not know what (s)he is talking about.

            One thing I’d like to note is that in this country we operate on a ’till you prove it’s not harmful we can swallow it by the gallon’ basis for many things. I don’t know that this is the best way of operating. (see: led in paint/gas sulfur in gas asbestos etc…)

          • Mike

            Here’s the beautiful thing about science. We can generate data and then interpret that data in the most logical manner. That same data can be cherry picked by the media without real scrutiny to the data. However, scientists DO scrutinize data. Many of data has been pushed out and spread into the media, then silently retracted under real scientific scrutiny. Those don’t end up in your blogs or even the mainstream media.

            Your first link comes from this article http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637

            I assume you already read it. I personally found problems with this study., especially using the “control” rats and isogenic maize treatment. Looked around the same journal and viola! http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512007843. Oh and http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512007879 (here is an interesting, yet cherry-picked line from the letter “serious failures that have occurred in the peer review process at FCT”. And this nugget http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512007880. There are more than just these examples too. Sometimes some scientists are more into making headlines by over-interpreting data. Mistakes are made…retractions in scientific journals are quiet and don’t make the media rounds or blogs, because either they don’t make sexy headlines or they don’t mesh with their slanted/biased views.

            I understand that people aren’t all scientists. I understand that people who aren’t scientist aren’t into trying to read scientific papers and draw their own conclusions (BELIEVE ME, in scientific papers, the authors conclusions aren’t the ONLY conclusions to draw in scientifically, peer reviewed journal articless). BUT as much as people are inherently distrustful of everything, they don’t seem to be as distrustful of whatever they think proves their points. Believe it or not, science is not nefarious or lurking around while twirling it’s collective mustache with a wad of cash in one hand.

          • disqus_IgLwEn7fAs

            Mike, I read review of a book, the concept of which was that people form their opinions first then seek sources to validate them. I wish I could remember the title, because the book offers some insight into human nature.

          • Mike

            I’d also retort that molecular biology is pretty amazing. It uses sequencing and basic science understanding and research to come up with ways to, in this case, to insert a gene that produces a certain trait. Of course, on a bigger scale, this has been occurring since the beginning of agriculture. It’s called breeding. You cross-breed plants with desirable traits in hopes of it’s progeny containing a desired trait. This is the same thing, but on the molecular scale.

            People’s idea of cloning is also warped. I’ve cloned over 100 genes of interest from pathogenic bacteria to understand how the basic science of how bacteria manifest disease in humans and animals. People hear or read “cloning” and think of cloning people or nefarious what-have-yous. The real problem of this is the inability of scientists to interact with the common lay-person and media. There will always be a disconnect, either because of complication of the subject or because the media and others have their own “angle”. It’s really a shame to be honest.

    • And lets not forget President Obama, who said in 2007 that he would make sure the all GMO foods would be labeled, not only has he not kept that promise, but now he signs this bill giving Monsanto immunity from Federal Laws!! I am disgusted.

  • Lauren

    I just want to point out that the Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee is Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, not Senator Barbara Mikulski. In fact, Senator Mikulski is not even on the Agriculture Committee. This makes it difficult for me to continue reading this article with any valor.

  • whatever

    You don’t have to be either a scientist or a lawyer to understand that gene splicing enables profiteers to manufacture and distribute dangerous chemicals that would otherwise be regulated.

    • Two things really bother me about GMO

      1. This is not a simple hybrid. They’re splicing genes not just from other plants but from bacteria, viruses, etc. Who knows what the long term implications are for the environment and our food supply. Some of these are immune to Roundup. What if one of these becomes an out of control invasive species?

      2. There shouldn’t be a a hand full of mega corporations controlling our food supply. Look at the percentage of our crops that are GMO, some approaching 100%, and you’ll see what power that gives Monsanto and the few other players.

  • Schratboy

    No joke…..and only if you love GMOs and have money bet on the biotech GMO marauders.

  • Thanks Obummer you Muslim Socialist you

    • Nothing wrong with Muslims or socialism. Now lying, I got a problem with, and allowing a corporate monolith like Monsanto to feed the country frankenfood without even being accountable under federal laws, that bothers me!!

  • my comment is waiting moderation—my reputation preceeds me

  • “This abuse of power is not the kind of leadership the public has come to expect from Senator Mikulski or the Democrat Majority in the Senate.”

    Is that a joke? Good grief, this is EXACTLY what you expect from the Democrats (and Republicans): corporate welfare. Remember that $833 billion stimulus? Handed out to rich supporters, including “green” crooks who promptly declared bankruptcy and left the tax payers holding the bag. If government is going to intervene in every aspect of our lives, then intervening to enrich their friends is part of the deal. Food safety is about information, consumer choice, civil penalties for fraud, and free market incentives to produce safe food…or be replaced by your competitor. It is not about Democrats telling everyone what they can eat. Center for Food Safety should work on neutrality, rather than partisan sucking up.

  • When you lead your store off with a bigoted attack on white men, it highlights your ignorance.

  • This “rider” MUST be overturned, its blatantly illegal. No company, corporation, or person has the right to hold themselves above federal laws, especially when they have written this rider themselves, called a blatant “conflict of interest” among other things. We are talking about a company whose goals is nothing short of controlling the ENTIRE FOOD SUPPLY TO THE WORLD!! I am NOT exaggerating. I commend those countries, India is one of them, who have told Monsanto “NO!”, unfortunately our government is owned by Corporate America, Shell Oil, B of A, Citicorp, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, THESE are the enemies – NOT any political party! Don’t be misled like sheeple, they are laughing all the way to the bank. Divide and conquer is the motto and it is working as planned. KNOW YOUR ENEMY above all, its money.

  • disqus_IgLwEn7fAs

    But it would be illiberal to deny Ms. Simon’s other great strengths. Everyone has a bad day once in a while. As one who is somewhat familiar with her other writing/efforts, I will say that I’m glad she’s willing to fight for the underdog, for lack of a better term. I may be on the other side of this issue, but I do agree with her most of the time.