Debate Forum Center: Genuine product protection or seedy backroom deal?
The recent passage of the measure to prevent a government shutdown allows U.S. lawmakers to step back and exhale for a moment. On March 26, President Obama signed H.R. 933, and with it comes funding to keep the government operational through September. This “stop-gap” bill is the product of budget battles and debates dominating lawmakers’ energy and attention for months. More budget talks will begin in the summer, but for now, government employees will be paid, agencies will continue operations and other issues will get attention.
The passing of H.R. 933, however, was not without issue. It produced a controversy in its wake, and it was not a budget controversy. Contained within H.R. 933 is a small rider called Section 735, which offers biotech companies immunity from litigation concerning the planting and cultivating of unapproved Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). According to news from Washington, the measure was a last-minute addition to the bill, and many senators and representatives allegedly knew nothing about its existence. The votes from Ohio’s senators and regional representatives on H.R. 933 went like this: Sherrod Brown (D), Yea; Rob Portman (R), Nay; Mike Turner (R), Yea; John Boehner (R) and Steve Austria (R) did not cast votes.
Opponents of Section 735 are troubled. They have called this rider nothing less than submission to special interests and the product of a secret, backroom deal that was slipped in without a hearing or debate. Furthermore, because so many lawmakers claim to have been unaware of the rider, opponents believe it reveals Congress was not reading the bill, and that troubles them as well. The potential violation of due process is also a great concern for opponents because Section 735 frees biotech companies from any liability regarding the cultivation of unapproved and potentially harmful products. Opponents also decry the precedent it sets because it opens the door for companies to get what they want by generating sympathy from lawmakers.
Backers of Section 735 say no alarms are necessary because it simply protects companies and farmers from frivolous lawsuits, further claiming environmentalists have a history of interfering with approved plants being cultivated. They go on to say lawsuits interfere with their development of legitimate products. They argue this legislation allows farmers to plant and grow crops while the USDA engages in environmental reviews rather than not have them planted at all or have them destroyed. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the sponsor of Section 735, had this to say about it: “What [Section 735] says is if you plant a crop that is legal to plant when you plant it, you get to harvest it.” He also states the bill provides just one year of protection for biotech companies.
Opponents of biotech companies’ GMOs have been trying for years to stop their proliferation. To them, Section 735 is a great step backward because they say it shuts down the ability of a federal court to protect consumer rights and the environment. The biotech companies claim to seek protection from activism that uses courts to interfere with innovation and creates financial hardship for farmers. Whether Section 735 becomes permanent depends on what happens in September when the federal government must come up with a budget deal or find another way to fund operations for fiscal year 2014.
Debate Forum Question of the Week:
A nearly unknown section of a budget bill passed by Congress last week (Section 735 of H.R. 933) now gives biotech companies such as Monsanto immunity from liability and litigation for their role in development, planting and harvesting of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) now and in the future. Has Congress violated their constitutional obligation to uphold due process and protect public health? Or is this a logical step toward protecting corporate innovation from frivolous lawsuits?
Debate Forum Left: When a seed isn’t just a seed
By Marianne Stanley
Who could have ever dreamed up the far-fetched idea that we could no longer trust our food to nourish rather than poison and even kill us? We are swimming in a soup of chemicals both internally and externally – in our air, our water, our foods. Monsanto is one of the greatest offenders in the realm of creating hazards to health and life on this planet in both the plant and animal world. The fact that most people think it is an agricultural company when it is actually a vast chemical corporation is testament to its marketing prowess.
Its “sins” against humanity and other living things are great and many. Monsanto is a regular player in Washington’s “revolving door” practice, where former congressmen go to work for the company and ultimately come back to work for government in some powerful capacity. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for instance, used to be a lawyer for Monsanto. Years later, he wrote the deciding opinion on Monsanto’s supposed “right” to patent seeds. First of all, as an ex-employee of that corporation, he should have recused himself from the case. Secondly, up until this decision, no form of existing life could be patented. Seeds are the key to mankind’s foodstuffs. Whoever holds the patent controls the food and, ultimately, the well-being of people themselves.
It is alarming enough that Monsanto has been allowed to patent its genetically modified (GM) seeds, releasing into our environment untested organisms that have already been shown to cause sterility, birth defects, cancer, seizures and even death. But Monsanto also bullies, harasses and sues small farmers whose fields contain some of the GM plants due to wind and natural cross-contamination. They have put farmers out of business with their mafia-like tactics while hundreds of thousands of suicides among Indian cotton farmers are attributed to practices and products that have destroyed them, from inferior yields to its costly seeds. These GE seeds, unlike traditional crop seeds, are sterile, forcing farmers to buy more seed every year.
While some are trying to say that the “Monsanto Protection Act” within the federal budget bill is just “business as usual” – since congressmen are always putting riders in bills to bring some “pork” home to their districts – this is something entirely, totally, 100 percent different and needs to be shown for what it is. This is the official and blatantly public end of the U.S. as it was designed to be; this is the demise of our separation of powers that has been eroding but which has not been complete until now.
What this rider says is that even if the creation, production, selling, moving, growing, harvesting or use of its genetically modified seeds leads to harm or even widespread death, that no matter what the results of its actions are, no one – not even our own government – can sue it, stop it or hold it accountable. No court will be allowed its proper role of oversight, of judicial review of the acts of the other two branches of government, be they laws or regulations. Monsanto has been given carte blanche to pursue its total commitment to profit at the expense of life itself.
Every American who is alarmed at the thought of corporations taking control over their lives should begin to educate themselves on these megalithic corporations who are actively involved in buying our lawmakers, to our detriment, from banks to chemical corporations. The senator who slid this rider into the unrelated budget bill is Republican Roy Blunt, the senator most highly rated by Monsanto and the one who has received the highest donation amounts from them.
Monsanto’s profits jumped 22 percent in the last quarter alone. As they are handed the keys to life itself, the rest of us must not sit idly and ignorantly by while their genetically engineered corn, rice, cotton, soy and canola send their bacterial microbes deep into our own digestive systems, turning them into little pesticide factories with unpredictable consequences. With virtually all our soy, corn and canola products genetically engineered, plus a large percentage of our rice and cotton, avoid them unless they’re organic. We should not be the subjects of a vast unscientific lab experiment.
It was Monsanto that created Agent Orange, which left half a million Asian babies with birth defects, along with countless American GIs returning from Vietnam. Its other products are equally dangerous and/or deadly. While saccharin is labeled accurately as a carcinogen in other countries, Monsanto has been able to keep its congressmen in line in consistently refusing to mandate labeling of GE foods, going so far as to enlist Donald Rumsfeld to reverse the original ban on aspartame after studies showed it caused holes in the brains of baby mice. Monsanto, cast as a consumer-friendly agricultural company also gave us toxic waste dumps, dioxin, DDT, PCBs and cancer-causing plastic bottles.
We are a country in dire straits when our government is in cahoots with big business, rather than being singularly committed to the well-being of the people of this nation. If you do nothing else today, email, call or write your representatives, including the president, to express your disapproval of that rider … then watch “Seeds of Destruction,” “The Future of Food,” “The World According to Monsanto,” “Seeds of Deception” and “Sweet Misery, A Poisoned World” so that you have a window into this unfolding crisis.
Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at
Debate Forum Right: Monsanto Protection Act merely a symptom of Senate’s refusal to pass a budget
By Dave Landon
It’s often been said that two things which you should never watch being made too closely are sausage and laws by our Congress. Watching the intricate details of either would lead most of us to a loss of appetite at the very least. That is even truer when Congress resorts to a “Christmas tree bill,” such as the recent continuing resolution passed by Congress last month to keep the government running through the end of this fiscal year.
In the United States Congress, the practice of loading a bill with unrelated pet projects has been a practice, mostly by members of the Senate. House rules make it more difficult to add unrelated riders to a piece of legislation, but the Senate has no such constraints. The practice has been carried on by both parties and results in the questionable practice of passing legislation which includes the pet projects of Senators from both parties.
Last month, with a deadline looming whereby the U.S. government was about to run out of money, Congress passed and the president signed H.R. 933, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013, a continuing resolution spending bill. Buried within the bill exists a provision that protects biotech corporations – such as the Missouri-based Monsanto Company – from litigation. With the signing of the bill into law, large agricultural corporations that deal with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) seeds are given the go-ahead to continue to plant and sell man-made crops, despite questions by some officials about the health risks these types of products could potentially pose to consumers. That section of the bill is being referred to in the media as the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
The protection provided to giant agricultural companies is nothing new. This measure of immunity provided to Monsanto and other similar companies from lawsuits will expire on Oct. 1, 2013 which is the end of the fiscal year. Presumably, the immunity would not be renewed in the next budget. Therein lies the danger. There may not be a “next” budget. The practice of adding riders to legislation which Congress is under the gun to pass, such as a CR (continuing resolution) to keep the government funded, is exacerbated by the current practice of the Democrat leadership in the Senate. The Senate has failed to pass a budget since April 29, 2009, which is now some 1,400 days ago. In failing to do so, the Senate has utterly failed to execute the most basic, fundamental function of governance.
Passing a budget is not only a constitutionally-mandated duty, but it is part of the normal course of business. The normal course of business has been interrupted by Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats for the past four years. The resulting last minute crisis and rescue legislation creates opportunities for riders like the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
The process of passing a budget is important because it gives the legislature a blueprint to follow. The House has passed a budget each of the past four years that the Senate has refused to act on one. Normally, the House version and the Senate version would go to a conference committee. At the conference committee the two sides (House and Senate) would battle it out until a compromise budget would emerge. Congress would then send the budget to the various committees to appropriate the funds for the various programs funded by the federal government. That hasn’t happened now in over four years.
The normal course of business that has served us well for these many years has been interrupted by Harry Reid’s politically-motivated decision to simply refuse to pass a budget. Neither will he take up any legislation passed by the House. The House sent three bills to the Senate as early as last summer to deal with sequestration. Those bills gathered dust on Reid’s desk and were never taken up by the Senate. As a result, we are faced with cuts that are disproportionately aimed at the defense industry. This is irresponsible and it’s on Harry Reid.
The normal course of business is for each branch of Congress to pass mandated legislation and send their version to a conference committee. If the Senate doesn’t like the House bill establishing a budget for the government, then it needs to pass its own version and send it to committee. The version of the bill coming out of conference committee will be a compromise. Is this really such a difficult concept for the Senate Democrats to understand? By conducting our legislative business according to this plan, there are fewer opportunities for riders to be tacked onto important legislation and maybe we can avoid a situation like the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
I can’t tell you the merits of protecting corporations working on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds. There are learned people on both sides of the argument making the case for their side. What I do know is that Washington appears to be broken. They seem to have lost the ability to even attempt to reach a compromise. If the Senate were to restore the normal course of doing business it would be a step in the right direction.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.