On July 11, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives finished voting on more than 100 proposed amendments to the 2013 Farm Bill. But there is one provision that food safety and environmental advocates do not like. Known as the “farmer assurance provision” (Section 733), the rider authorizes the USDA to “regulate the introduction and cultivation of products of biotechnology if the products pose a plant pest risk.”
In plain English, that means farmers can grow genetically engineered (GE) crops before the USDA has determined they are safe. Currently, the USDA can suspend the planting of these crops while environmental impact studies are conducted. If the bill is passed as-is, Federal courts would no longer be able to stop sales of potentially harmful GE crops. The rider also prevents the courts from forcing the USDA to take action against policies that may hurt farmers and the environment.
In fact, the bill would outlaw any review of genetically engineered crops’ impact under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, or any other environmental law. It would also prohibit other agencies from offering expert input into the review process. And it would force a “backdoor approval” of GE crops. Finally, the EPA’s oversight of biotech crops would be limited, since the USDA must choose the “least burdensome” choice for industry, even if environmental consequences are disastrous.
The Center for Food Safety calls the provision “nothing more than a Monsanto profit assurance provision,” according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of that organization. Many GE crops, seeds, and plants can’t be sold in international markets. If this rider becomes law, the USDA must approve all permits for planting unapproved GE crops. And since many GE plants cross-pollinate, plants in nearby fields may incorporate the genetically engineered genes into their DNA. That would prevent those crops from being sold on the international market.
The CFS and other organizations, including EarthJustice, Food and Water Watch, Pesticide Action network, and the Sierra Club, sent a letter to the Agriculture Committee on July 10, 2012, asking the representatives to oppose the riders. You can sign a petition set up by the Center for Food Safety against this rider. It will be sent to your member of Congress.