If genetically modified seeds and foods cause health problems, should biotech companies be held legally responsible? Don’t think too hard because Congress and President Barack Obama have already decided for you – and the answer is a frightening no.
Almost any industry that puts its consumers in harm’s way is subject to lawsuits, but the U.S. government has granted corporations that genetically alter food an exemption by sneaking it into the Agricultural Appropriations Bill. The bill, which was quickly signed into law, included this particular provision, HR 933, which activists are not so lovingly referring to as the Monsanto Protection Act.
Monsanto, of course, is the agricultural biotechnology giant constantly surrounded by controversy. Considering the company had the most to gain from this law’s passage, surely it played some role in lobbying. It begs the question: if Monsanto genuinely believes its approach to agriculture is not harmful, why would it go to such great, secretive lengths to grant itself immunity from litigation?
Perhaps it’d be less alarming if Monsanto had built a respectable reputation, but one word can continually be applied to the corporation’s business practices:
Similarly untrustworthy? Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland and the chairperson for the Senate Apporpriations Committee who quietly added the amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill. Usually such provisions are given a hearing and review, but this one was tacked on anonymously as the bill was rushed to a vote. The Center for Food Safety has been particularly critical of Mikulski, saying, “In this hidden backroom deal, Sen. Mikulski turned her back on consumer, environmental and farmer protection in favor of corporate welfare for biotech companies such as Monsanto.”
Obama has also received criticism for signing the bill into law. To be fair, the President was in a sticky situation since not signing it would have left the United States without a federal budget and effectively shut down the government. That said, it wouldn’t be the first time Obama has approved a dubious provision because it is part of a larger bill that is supposedly essential (see the NDAA and indefinite detention).
Senator Mikulski is using a similar excuse. A press release from her office declared that she neither wrote nor supported the Monsanto Protection Act, adding, “[Her] first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown. That meant she had to compromise on many of her own priorities to get a bill through the Senate that the House would pass.”
Meanwhile, other members of Congress are trying to avoid the blame altogether. According to Salon, the provision was so secretive that many Senators and Representatives claim they were unaware they were voting on that part of the bill. However, it seems pretty inexcusable for Congresspeople (and their staffs) to not read bills in full before voting on them, no matter the stakes. At some point, it doesn’t matter whether the politicians are corrupt or just incompetent: both yield terrible results.
If there is any good news about this whole debacle, it is that since the entire bill was passed on an emergency basis, the law is only in effect for six months. The real question will be now that the formerly “oblivious” members of Congress have been made aware by concerned Americans, will they put a stop to this dangerous precedent or renew it to continue to protect their negligent corporate friends?