The Monsanto Protection Act: Be Afraid, Very Afraid

Sometimes I think I should poke my head out of my cave more often. But when I do, I usually find things that scare me back into the blissful ignorance of mental hibernation, or goofing around on Twitter, which is often the same thing. Take this morning, for example. I happened to poke around in the news feeds and (somewhat belatedly) found out about the so-called Monsanto Protection Act, which sent me running back into my cave.

As you may (or may not) know, I wrote Season Of The Harvest out of a sense of disbelief that the shenanigans of the agricultural biotechnology industry, led by companies like the infamous Monsanto, were driven merely by corporate greed. While most readers have enjoyed the book as a sort of sci-fi thriller, it’s really based largely on science fact. All the places are real. Most of the technology is real. The depiction of people in key positions in the government who are indebted to (or simply vassals of) the biotech companies is real, although modified, of course, to fit the story. The whole thing, seen together, seemed to outrageous, too sinister, for mere profit.

Then we leave sanity behind completely with things like the Monsanto Protection Act, which is the unofficial name given to Section 735 of the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013,” or H.R. 933, an appropriations bill that President Obama signed into law in late March. This was one of those sneaky little inserts that lawmakers stick into larger bills hoping that either no one will catch it before it’s signed into law, or the bill is too important to quibble over for long without dire consequences to the nation at large. Such was the case with H.R. 933, which essentially was a continuing resolution funding bill to keep the government running for a while longer until a more permanent budget can get sorted out in Congress (good luck with that, too, right?).

So, what’s so awful about poor little Section 735? As the International Business Times reports:

The “Monsanto Protection Act” effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial genetically modified (aka GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds, no matter what health issues may arise concerning GMOs in the future.

Yes, you read that right. Someone could come up with irrefutable proof today that GMOs cause cancer or some other threat to public health, and the courts wouldn’t be able to say boo to Monsanto or the other agricultural biotech companies. They could keep on planting and selling their seeds and dusting the resulting crops with Roundup until the mutated cows come home.

The only good news about this farce is that the law is only in force until September, when the resolution ends, and that it raised a stink across a wide spectrum, from environmental groups to the Tea Party. Unfortunately, President Obama signed H.R. 933 into law (not that he had much choice, I suppose, other than shutting down the government), so we’re stuck with it through the end of the fiscal year.

But the really bad news is that, despite the sneaky manner in which the legislation was introduced, a frightening precedent has been set. Considering the hundreds of millions that Monsanto alone spends on lobbying Congress, how many of its former employees occupy key positions in the government agencies responsible for food safety, and that even one of the Supreme Court Justices (Clarence Thomas) was a former attorney for Monsanto, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a “real” law giving the biotech companies a blank check.

And if that happens, what you read in Season Of The Harvest and other books like it won’t be nearly as terrifying as reality.

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11 thoughts on “The Monsanto Protection Act: Be Afraid, Very Afraid

  • Ryan Schneider

    This stuff is appalling. Embarrassing on a global scale. The new issue of Rolling Stone has an article by Matt Taibbi about the LIBOR scandal and how Big Banking is gaming the global commodities market in order to get rich. It’s so big and so deep, no one can stop it. The Justice Dept can do nothing (not that it actually wants to) for fear of jeopardizing the global banking situation. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. But in this case, the mice are totally untouchable. Oh, I don’t even want to get started.

  • R.w.Foster

    Mr. Hicks, I must say I’m a bit disappointed that you would buy into the media’s scare tactics. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t “protect” Monsanto, or any other corporation. Saying otherwise is scare tactic politics.

    Everyone is freaking out over the genetically modified foods, saying “We don’t know what harm it’ll do!” Well, we’ve been genteically modifying our foods for thousands of years. We’ve not had the level of precision that we have now. So, i’d wager that our foods will be safer than ever before.

    But what about the “European Uinion banning so many GMO’s?” 2 things: One, they’re basically second world nations that are banning them. First world nations are not. The biggest reason the second world ones are, but first not: Morons in the latter saying that GMOs are gonna harm us. There is no evidence of this. Correction: no scientific, peer-reviewed evidence of this.

    • Michael Hicks Post author

      RW – Sorry, but I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on a point or two. First off, hybridization is what we’ve been doing for “thousands of years,” and is completely and utterly different than the genetic engineering that Monsanto and other companies are doing. Hybridization is fundamentally a natural process (i.e., occurs in nature) over which we have taken greater control. Inserting gene sequences from bacteria like Bacillus thuringiensis or other non-plant organisms into plant DNA is not at all the same thing.

      Point 2 is one you hit right on the head: no scientific, peer-reviewed evidence…either way. See, here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with biotech in itself. What I have an issue with is that there is no independent scientific peer review of all these organisms we’re creating. Do you know who does the safety research and validation for these organisms for the FDA and USDA? The companies that produce them. Monsanto, etc., certify that the organisms they’re creating by splicing DNA together from different organisms, which often aren’t even in the same kingdom, are safe for human and/or animal consumption. The FDA stamps it “approved”, and off they go. Don’t believe me? Do a bit of research. I’ve seen such documents. They’re not hard to find.

      Call me cynical, but I’m a bit reluctant to believe that Monsanto or any other big corporation has my personal interests at heart. Maybe it has to do with predatory practices like filing suits against farmers for patent infringement when Monsanto seed blows into their fields and germinates. Or maybe ask the farmers in India who have been committing suicide after losing everything in the Monsanto Bt Cotton disaster. Or the farmers trying to raise non-GMO crops in fields adjacent to where their neighbors are spraying Roundup on their Roundup-ready crops, killing the non-GMO plants and not doing the people any favors, either. Just sayin’.

      If it’s the morons in the second world nations in the EU who are wanting to ban GMOs, I’ll happily stand with them (it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been called a moron). But even at that, the EU has some of the world’s most stringent regulations governing GMOs. Just look at the labeling laws in most European countries: food manufacturers are *required* to disclose to the consumer if the product contains GMOs. Here in the land of the free and home of the brave, food manufacturers are *not allowed* to say if a product contains GMOs. That, too, doesn’t give me warm fuzzies.

      Anyway, I don’t care what anybody’s stance may be on GMOs and biotech, but as a consumer I believe I have a right to know exactly what I’m eating, and what I’m feeding my children. I may not choose to buy products that contain genetic material from bacteria that produce an insecticidal toxin…oh, but wait! That’s exactly what’s in Bt (our little friend Bacillus thuringiensis) corn, cotton, and all the other GMO crops that haven’t been validated by independent review.

      Lastly, as for me buying into media scare tactics, what scares me more is that this sort of thing isn’t in mainstream media more often…like every single day. And if I’m wrong about Section 735 protecting corporations like Monsanto, so be it – it won’t be the first time. But if so, I’ve got an awful lot of company (except the mainstream media – wonder why that is?), including some legal beagles who can actually read and understand the language and context in which the bill is written.

    • Adam

      Latest Title: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013
      Sponsor: Rep Rogers, Harold [KY-5] (introduced 3/4/2013) Cosponsors (None)

      Another matter where the Republicans have tied the President’s hands. Obama really wanted the government to have money, and the Repbulicans said you can only do so if you allow this to become law. If Democrats had the majority, this law wouldn’t exist. Luckily the Republicans are split on the issue, and if even the Tea Party are against it, hopefully it will not be renewed.


      “Sec. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act

      [[Page 127 STAT. 232]]

      is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse
      environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period
      necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or
      consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status:
      Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.”

      So for if any reasons something is banned, it can still be grown, harvested and sold.

  • Chris Carpenter

    Well done Michael – Someone has to wake and inform the general public about this issue. Mainstream media are not saying a word about it.

  • Tom Stronach

    The arrogance of multi nationals and the ignorance of governments can be devastatingly breathtaking. I remember a few years ago at the height of the ‘foot and mouth’ disease an MP from the government responsible for food safety stated that the threat was non existent and fed himself and his young children beef burgers for the assembled media. A few days later the first cases were confirmed……

  • Craig Deutsch

    Like you Michael, I grew up with sci-fi and also am an avid reader. Again, like you, I am scared of the implications with GM crops. I almost never check out the main stream media. When the Monsanto thing happened I thought it was a joke! The powers that be have such a warped moral sense that ,as far as I’m concerned, we as a people were screwed long ago…

  • Gena

    Amen Mr. Hicks, Amen! This Monsanto Protection act, and the insanity this corporation is involved in is an abomination (IMHO). Monsanto is after money, not healthy food.
    I will never voluntarily eat any GMO food products. We should have the choice to eat natural, non GMO food if that is our desire.
    I’ve been living and traveling in the EU for over 30 years and if any county is like a 3rd world nation, it’s the USA. Germany is probably the most advanced nation I’ve seen and they are way more stringent than the USA on protecting people’s health (excluding their love of smoking. Ugh.) Hopefully your post will truly reach some people.

  • Nicolette

    THIS. Completely this! I’m not going to lie. I had a really hard time getting through Season of the Harvest, and it’s not because I didn’t like it. I really, really liked it. It just hits a LOT of raw nerves for me. (About a third of the way in, I just had this feeling that you really, really did your homework and knew what was going on. And it scares me.)

    Monsanto’s business practices scare the crap out of me. Successfully suing farmers because some of your seed blew into said farmer’s field and they didn’t pay you for it? Absolutely absurd, though really I feel like big corporations get away with anything. Like you said above, splicing pesticides into plants and using bacteria to produce insecticides is NOT the same as hybridization, and it’s near impossible to find something not GM unless the package explicitly states organic or non-GMO project-verified. (Speaking of, I would love to read that push to certify GMs organic…I hadn’t heard about that before…) Big companies don’t want them labelled because they’re worried about the stigma that’d come with it.

    Two more things to consider:
    1. rBGH milk. Also a Monsanto special, who wouldn’t want artificially-synthesized growth hormone in your milk?
    2. Meats. As far as I know, meat hasn’t gotten past the Darwinism aspect of “breed the strongest livestock”. HOWEVER, alfalfa is rampantly GM now as well, and if we feed on livestock that feed on GM alfalfa, it’s not the greatest thing ever. I’m trying to stick to grass-fed because, again, no research has been done one way or the other. (Though it is telling that Monsanto is insisting the FDA do the research to make sure their food is safe, and the FDA is insisting the biotech companies making these crops do their own testing so really, nothing gets done, and plenty of former Monsanto folk are now high-up in the government possibly pulling strings anyway.)

  • Daniél Lecoq (@GalaxyCurse)

    Unfortunately we’re not safe from GMOs over here in “2nd world Europe”
    The Monsanto bought politicians in Parlament wanna forbit every seed not registered(for a fee)
    Since early January GMOs are legal in our food, only a few countries in the EU have stopped it. France, Greece, Austria, Hungaria and Luxenburg have stopped Monsanto corn.
    Hungaria made all GMOs illegal, recently burned a lot of fields where farmers unknownly had GMO grains(Monsanto and their friends smuggle in their GMOs and hide it with the normal seeds, poor farmers got their fields destroyed because of Monsanto greed).

    The Swedish Ministre of Agriculture Eskil Erlandsson are openly pro Monsanto and GMOs and we had a test project in Skåne(Scanie, southern Sweden) with Monsanto GMO sugar beets for a few years. Against EU law at that time(GMOs got legal in January, remember).

    Join the march against Monsanto May 25th.