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.