Working to Close Biotech’s Congressional Backdoor
by Bruce E. Boyers
Almost six months ago a backdoor policy rider—now become famously known as the “Monsanto Protection Act”—was quietly attached to a temporary government spending bill and passed through Congress. Since that time food activists and front-line organizations such as the Center for Food Safety have been working overtime to educate a concerned public on how to react, and meeting with members of Congress to make sure the rider does not become permanent after the six months expires.
The latest news is that the rider—which enables Monsanto and other biotech companies to bypass any court-ordered stoppage on planting of GMO crops—has once again been attached to the next temporary spending bill. This Continuing Resolution (CR) has now passed the House and is before the Senate.
“Right now the House and Senate are considering a short-term spending bill that would keep the lights on and keep the government running until mid-December,” Colin O’Neil, Director of Government Affairs for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), told Organic Connections. “The bill that the House passed on Friday would extend all previously appropriated funds and policies, including policy riders that were passed in the previous bill.”
Taking Advantage of Urgency
The biotech industry is taking advantage of the fact that the operation of the government itself depends on this CR passing in a timely manner. “The industry knows that Congress is dealing with ‘must-pass’ legislation,” O’Neil explained. “This bill funds the government and keeps the lights on for the entire country really, so they understand the urgency that this bill has. Recently we’ve seen with this Monsanto Protection Act that it’s been like a hostage situation on Capitol Hill, where industry is working behind the scenes to ensure that these corporate earmarks get passed through must-pass legislation.”
In addition, there is another policy rider that is part of the resolution which has been garnering an enormous amount of congressional and public attention. “There’s a rider attached to the House bill that would defund the Affordable Care Act—also known as Obamacare—that has sucked a lot of attention out of the room,” O’Neil added. “Nonetheless members of Congress have been hearing a lot about this Monsanto rider again.”
If It Passes Once More
The good news is that if this rider does happen to pass through the Senate and become signed into law, it will be once again temporary, only in force until mid-December. The bad news is, however, that a precedent can be set for keeping such policy permanently in place.
“We’re very concerned about the precedent,” said O’Neil. “We understand the tight deadlines that Congress is running on, but short-term CRs are not a good excuse for grandfathering in bad public policy. While we know that there are a number of priorities that the Senate is juggling—including dealing with some of the healthcare issues, in addition to dealing with the reduced funds that the House proposed in its CR—we’re still urging Senate leadership to strip this rider, because we understand how these bad policy riders can be essentially grandfathered in by just getting tacked on to every short-term bill.”
Fighting this short-term legislation, then, becomes part of the overall goal of keeping it from becoming permanent. In the fall it is expected that Congress will be working on the appropriations bill for fiscal year ending 2014—and the rider ideally should be stripped from legislation before that happens.
Action Being Taken
CFS has been very busy taking steps to see that this rider is removed from the CR now pending before the Senate. “We’ve been working very closely with our allies on Capitol Hill,” O’Neil said. “Several key senators have been voicing their strong opposition to the rider to chairwoman Barbara Mikulski as well as majority leader Harry Reid; and we’ve been working with a number of offices on both the House and the Senate side to communicate that opposition, and with Senate leadership to have them strip the rider from the bill.
“We also organized a sign-on letter from 129 organizations and businesses that was sent to Senate leadership urging them to strip this dangerous and unprecedented policy rider from the House bill. And we’ve additionally been working to activate our membership to get them to communicate to their members of Congress about the urgency of doing this.”
“The conversations are continuing on Capitol Hill, and we’re seeing members of Congress really waking up to these issues,” O’Neil concluded. “We’re thankful that Senate leadership has recognized the importance of removing the Monsanto Protection Act from future legislation. While we’re disappointed that House Republican leadership brought it back from the dead, so to speak, we’re hopeful that this rider will be put to bed and we can move on to some more pressing issues like the labeling of GE foods.”
For further information—and for tools to take action yourself—please visit www.centerforfoodsafety.org.