Thursday, April 11, 2013


Why Labels on Genetically Engineered Foods Won’t Cost Consumers a Dime

  • By Zack Kaldveer and Ronnie Cummins
    Organic Consumers Association, April 9, 2013

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

The biotech industry, led by Monsanto, will soon descend on the state of Washington to try their best to defeat I-522, a citizens’ ballot initiative to require mandatory labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. Voters should prepare themselves for an onslaught of discredited talking points, nonsensical red herrings, and outright lies designed to convince voters that they shouldn’t have the right to know what’s in the food they eat.

Topping the biotech industry’s propaganda playlist will no doubt be this old familiar tune: that requiring retailers to verify non-GMO ingredients in order to label them will be burdensome and costly, and the additional cost will be passed on to consumers who are already struggling to feed their families.

Playing to consumers’ fears of higher food costs makes good strategic sense, especially in tough economic times. But the argument doesn’t hold water, say food manufacturers and retailers who already have systems in place for verifying non-GMO, as well as rBGH-free, trans fat-free, country of origin and fair trade. The system involves using chain-of-custody, legally binding affidavits, not expensive testing.

“We have used the affidavit system repeatedly, without undue burden or cost,” said Trudy Bialic, Director of Public Affairs for Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets. PCC, the largest consumer-owned natural food retail co-operative in the United States, uses the affidavit system to ensure their chocolate isn't made using child slave labor, their dairy products don't come from animals subjected to rBGH hormones, and that all seafood was harvested using sustainable sources and practices.

Trader Joe’s, a privately held chain of nearly 400 U.S. stores, confirmed that the company’s private label products, under the names Trader Joe’s, Jose’s and Ming’s, are GMO-free, though the company doesn’t label them as such. In an email, a company spokesperson said:

" When developing products containing ingredients likely to come from genetically modified sources, we have the supplier of the product in question perform the necessary research to provide documentation that the suspect ingredients are from non-GMO sources.

This documentation is in the form of affidavits, identity-preserved certification of seed stock, and third-party lab results from testing of the ingredients in question."

Trader Joe’s performs random audits of items with suspect ingredients, using an outside, third-party lab to perform the testing, the company said. Trader Joe’s system is not unlike that of the USDA, which requires sworn statements from food producers to certify organic foods. The agency requires test samples from approximately 5 percent of products, all of which must be GMO-free in order to be certified organic. For the other 95 percent, the agency relies solely on sworn statements.

Clif Bar & Co. also requires affidavits from ingredient suppliers demonstrating they can meet the company's stringent non-GMO requirements.

Monsanto would have you believe that verifying and labeling for non-GMO ingredients is a costly and burdensome affair, but the fact that Trader Joe’s, known for its discount prices, can provide GMO-free private label products, which reportedly account for over two-thirds of the company’s estimated annual $9 billion in sales, takes the wind out of the “burdensome” argument. That leaves the cost of adding another line of ink to a label. Trader Joe’s doesn’t yet label its private label products as GMO- free, but the company cites a lack of clear labeling guidelines from U.S. governmental agencies as the reason it doesn’t label, not cost.

Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the Non-GMO Project confirmed what retailers who use the affidavit system said:  "An affidavit system like what's proposed in I-522 is a powerful way to have a significant impact on the food supply with minimal cost."

How does the affidavit system work?
Companies selling non-GMO foods provide a sworn statement (i.e. an affidavit) to the retailer that the ingredients used are sourced from crops that aren’t intentionally genetically engineered. The affidavit, unless deliberately dishonest, protects the manufacturer and the retailer from liability in the case of unintentional GMO contamination.

Retailers are responsible only for labeling a few raw commodities that may contain GE ingredients, such as sweet corn, papaya, or squash.  In these cases, the retailer can either stick a simple label on the bin or ask their supplier for an affidavit stating that the crop is GMO free. 

Under this system, no costly testing for GE ingredients is required. No burdensome government oversight is necessary. The system is inherently designed to protect small grocers and retailers, at no additional cost to the customer or taxpayer.

The beauty of the affidavit system is that it offers retailers and manufacturers a simple, easy way to comply with a regulatory model that provides consumers with the right to know what’s in their food without increasing grocery costs.  Even for manufacturers who might otherwise seek to pass on the trivial expense of relabeling to consumers, empirical studies show that the fear of losing customers in the competitive food industry will be a deterrent to raising prices. Did food costs change when we labeled calorie content? 

Is the system reliable? Retailers say yes. Why would manufacturers intentionally deceive retailers only to open themselves up to a lawsuit and public relations nightmare? And the system has a proven track record. PCC Natural Markets, Trader Joe’s and Clif Bar all use affidavits, as do other manufacturers who use them for country-of-origin and no-trans fat labeling. And nearly two-thirds of the nation’s largest dairy processors use sworn affidavits from producers in order to label rBGH-free. (rBGH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a synthetic, genetically engineered hormone injected into dairy cows to increase milk production).

Contrary to claims made by companies like Monsanto, states do have a constitutional right to label food. In fact, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act explicitly allows states to add language to labels so long as the federal government doesn’t require language on the same subject – a right that has consistently held up in federal court.

A chain-of-custody, legally binding affidavit labeling system empowers consumers to make more informed choices about what we eat, without increasing the costs of groceries or burdening retailers and manufacturers.  One simple label to identify foods that have been genetically engineered, often using the genes of foreign bacteria and viruses, would lead more consumers to seek out sustainable, organic, non-GMO alternatives. And that – not some phony line about increased food costs – is why Monsanto is fighting labeling.

Zack Kaldveer is assistant media director at the Organic Consumers Association.

Ronnie Cummins is founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association. Cummins is author of numerous articles and books, including "Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers" (Second Revised Edition Marlowe & Company 2004).


Wednesday, April 10, 2013


April 10, 2013
3:41 PM

Obama Administration Caves to Poultry Industry By Proceeding With Privatized Inspection

Statement of Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

WASHINGTON - April 10 - “The Obama Administration’s proposed cuts to the FY 2014 budget for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) pave the way for an ill-conceived proposal to remove government inspectors from slaughter facilities and turn over their responsibilities to company-paid employees. The Obama Administration proposed a change in regulations on January 27, 2012, to implement this privatized inspection model and these budget cuts advance this aim despite hundreds of thousands of comments to the USDA opposing the proposal. Although the final rule has not been published, the proposed FY 2014 budget makes the rule a fait accompli.
“USDA has been conducting a pilot using this privatized inspection model since 1999 in 20 chicken and 5 turkey slaughter facilities. The department has made the argument that the remaining USDA inspectors in the plants can focus on ‘food safety’ issues leaving ‘quality’ defects for the company employees to handle. The department’s own analysis accompanying the January 2012 proposed rule revealed that Salmonella rates in the plants using the privatized model were higher in pilot plants when comparably–sized plants receiving conventional inspection.
“Food & Water Watch did its own analysis of the inspection documents from a group of the poultry plants participating in the pilot and we found that ‘quality defects,’ including visible fecal contamination, were being missed by company employees (see
“More alarming is the fact that, of the poultry plants that failed the most recent round of the FSIS salmonella testing, two are part of the pilot project – Tyson Foods Establishment P7101 located in Clarksville, Arkansas, and Golden Rod Broilers Establishment P341 located in Cullman, Alabama. The pilot plants represent a disproportionate share of the all poultry plants that failed the salmonella testing. Yet, the Administration is seeing fit to move forward with an inspection model that may increase food borne illness and not reduce it (List of failing plants can be found here
“When the Obama Administration first proposed expanding this pilot, it estimated that the FSIS would save $90 million over three years by eliminating some 800 USDA inspector positions, and the poultry industry would stand to pad its bottom line to the tune of $260 million per year since more companies could increase line speeds to 175 birds per minute under fewer regulatory requirements. The new inspection model also poses serious threats to worker health.
“Congress should reject the Administration’s proposal. Instead, the Administration should be seeking legislative authority for FSIS to regulate foodborne pathogens in all meat and poultry plants that fall under its jurisdiction instead of letting the companies regulate themselves.”
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.


Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Farmers and Consumers V. Monsanto: David Meet Goliath

"Down with Monsanto" read a banner as thousands marched for food sovereignty in Haiti, March 22, 2013. (Photo: Tequila Minsky © 2013)Bordering an interstate highway in Arkansas, a giant billboard with a photo of a stoic-looking farmer watches over the speeding traffic. He’s staring into the distance against the backdrop of a glowing wheat field, with the caption “America’s Farmers Grow America.” It’s an image to melt all our pastoral hearts.
Until we read the small print in the corner: “Monsanto.”
The maker of Agent Orange, Monsanto’s former motto used to be, “Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.” Today its tag line is “Committed to Sustainable Agriculture, Committed to Farmers.” Its website claims the company helps farmers “be successful [and] produce healthier foods… while also reducing agriculture's impact on our environment.” It even boasts of the corporation’s dedication to human rights.
Behind the PR gloss is a very different picture. Via Campesina, the world’s largest confederation of farmers with member organizations in 70 countries, has called Monsanto one of the “principal enemies of peasant sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty for all peoples.” Via Campesina members also target Monsanto as a driving influence behind land grabs, forcing small farmers off their land and out of work. The agribusiness giants also contribute to climate change and other environmental disasters, outgrowths of industrial agriculture.
Together with Syngenta and Dupont, Monsanto controls more than half of the world’s seeds. The company holds more than 650 seed patents - most of them for cotton, corn and soy - and almost 30% of the share of all biotech research and development. Monsanto came to own such a vast supply by buying major seed companies to stifle competition, patenting genetic modifications to plant varieties, and suing small farmers. Monsanto is also one of the leading manufacturers of genetically modified organisms [GMOs].
Monsanto has filed more than 140 lawsuits against 400 farmers and 56 small businesses for alleged violations of contract or GMO patents. One such case is currently under consideration in the Supreme Court. “Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else’s genetically engineered crop [or] when genetically engineered seed from a previous year’s crop has sprouted,” said the Center for Food Safety.[i] In total, the company has won more than $23 million from these suits. The multinational appears to investigate 500 farmers a year, in estimates based on Monsanto’s own documents and media reports.[ii]
In Colombia, Monsanto has received upwards of $25 million from the U.S. government for providing Roundup Ultra in the anti-drug fumigation efforts of Plan Colombia. Roundup Ultra is a highly concentrated version of Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide, with additional ingredients to increase its lethality. Local communities and human rights organizations have charged that the herbicide has destroyed food crops, water sources, and protected areas in the Andes, and has led to increased incidents of birth defects and cancers.
On March 26, siding once again with corporations, President Obama signed into law a spending bill with a “Monsanto Protection Rider.” This requires the government to allow GMO crops to be planted before an environmental and health assessment is completed. This means that crops may be planted with the permission of the USDA even if it is not known whether they are harmful.
One Goliath, Many Davids
Farmers and activists are not sitting idly by.
Via Campesina launched a global campaign against Monsanto on International World Food Day in 2009, with marches, protests, land occupations, and hunger strikes in more than 20 countries. The coalition continues organizing international days of action against the company and agribusiness in general. Via Campesina has kept the spotlight on Monsanto at its global protests, such as the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference in Bangkok.
One of the rejections of Monsanto occurred in the small village of Hinche, Haiti in June, 2010. There, thousands of farmers burned Monsanto seeds. The Haitian Ministry of Agriculture had given Monsanto permission to import and ‘donate’ 505 tons of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds. “It’s a declaration of war,” said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, director of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP). The importation of massive amounts of hybrid seed threatens the traditional, regionally adapted seed stock of Haiti, as it does in many other countries. Hybrid seeds also cause a cycle of dependence, with farmers buying them from Monsanto each year rather than relying on local markets or their own saved seed. In an open letter, Jean-Baptiste called the entry of the seeds “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.”[iii]
The same day as the protest in Haiti, activists in Seattle gathered in solidarity. They burned Monsanto seeds in front of the headquarters of the Gates Foundation, which is promoting GMO seeds in Africa. In Montana, the home state of Monsanto’s world headquarters, activists dressed in lab coats and Tyvek to demand that Monsanto “seeds of dependency” be kept out of Haiti. In Chicago, a Haiti support group did not have Monsanto seeds, so they burned Cheetos instead. The Organic Consumers Association’s network sent more than 10,000 emails protesting Monsanto’s ‘donation’ to USAID and President Obama. African-American farmers in Mississippi mobilized letters to the White House, too.
Around the world, farmers and activists have long taken it upon themselves to destroy Monsanto’s GMO crops. Groups have cut down or pulled up fields of corn, potatoes, rapeseed, and other crops, sometimes laying them at the entryways of government buildings where they are demanding anti-GMO legislation. In 2003 in the state of ParanĂ¡ in Brazil, activists uprooted plants at one of Monsanto’s experimental labs. They went on to file and win a land reform claim, and then started their own agroecology university on the site.
In the U.S., the Organic Consumers Association has spearheaded the “Millions Against Monsanto” campaign, demanding that the company stop intimidating small family farmers and forcing untested and unlabeled genetically engineered foods on consumers. The campaign works to unearth information about Monsanto’s practices, push legislation to limit corporate power, and disseminate research and action items through its extensive network. Occupy Monsanto has also held a number of actions around the country. This week, starting April 8, groups from around the country are gathering in Washington, D.C. for Occupy Monsanto’s “eat-in” at the FDA, demanding GMO regulation and an end to corporate influence in food policy.
In 2012, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association gathered enough signatures for a ballot initiative (Prop 37) in California to mandate labeling of products containing GMOs. Their hope was that forcing companies to label in California, the eighth-largest economy in the world, would prompt countrywide labeling. Companies poured money into defeating the measure, the largest donors being Monsanto (about $8.1m) and DuPont (about $5.4m). Also donating millions were companies that own major organic labels like Kashi (Kellogg Company), Horizon (Dean Foods), Odwalla (Coca-Cola), and Cascadian Farms (General Mills). The measure failed by a tiny margin, causing the anti-GMO movement to redouble its efforts. Labeling laws have been proposed in more than 20 other states and are currently under consideration by legislators in Vermont and Washington.
In 2011, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association – together with 82 other plaintiffs, including agricultural associations, seed companies, and farmers – brought a lawsuit against Monsanto in Manhattan federal district court to establish protections for organic farmers whose crops are contaminated by GMOs. The court ruled against them, but the plaintiffs appealed and are currently awaiting a ruling.
Back in the rural Haitian town of Hinche on March 22 of this year, the same peasant farmer group that had burned Monsanto seeds held another demonstration. Holding banners reading “Down with Monsanto,” they demanded an end to corporate tyranny of agriculture. Allies from many countries in Latin America, North America, Europe, and Africa joined them in that dusty town, recommitting themselves to a world with food and seed sovereignty.
[i] Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph Mendelson, Center for Food Safety, “Monsanto vs. US Farmers,” 2005.
[ii] Center for Food Safety, “Monsanto vs. US Farmers,” Nov. 2007.
[iii] Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, group email, May 14, 2010.

This article originally appeared on Other Worlds as part of their Harvesting Justice series.

Tory Field
Tory Field is Research and Education Coordinator for Other Worlds. Tory is an organizer living in Massachusetts. She worked for many years as a community organizer with Arise for Social Justice, a multi-issue community justice organization in Springfield, MA. where she now serves on the Board of Directors.

Beverly Bell

Beverly Bell is the founder of Other Worlds and more than a dozen international organizations and networks, Beverly is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Beverly has worked for more than three decades as an organizer, advocate, and writer in collaboration with social movements in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S.   She is the author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance.


'Crop Waste': The Price of Perfection

It’s tough not being perfect. Everyone who has ever had a bad hair day knows that. And that’s no more true than for those misshapen, oddly sized fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature inevitably produces. For them, the price of being imperfect is being consigned to a slow death, rotting in the farm field or the landfill, while their cosmetically perfect brothers and sisters head off to a grocery store near you.
Two fascinating reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council do a deft job of explaining why we should all care about “crop waste”—the widespread loss of otherwise edible fresh and vegetables that never make it past the farm gate or the landfill. One report, Wasted by Dana Gunders, looks at food waste across our food system. The other, Left-Out, looks specifically at fruit and vegetable losses on the farm.Consumer demand for cosmetically perfect produce has real consequences. (Photo: creative commons license/katiescrapbooklady.)
The numbers reported by NRDC are astounding. For instance, from farm to fork, about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That amounts to $165 billion of wasted food every year (a figure which, notably, is in the same ballpark as the annual cost of obesity). More than 6 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold each year, and preliminary data from a cluster of fruit and vegetable growers in California suggests that losses on the farm and in the packing stage range as high as 14–60 percent for a variety of common crops.
Why are losses on the farm so high? There are many contributing factors, but a big one that you and I play a part in is consumer demand for cosmetic perfection—for perfectly shaped peppers and uniform, bright red strawberries that seem to get bigger every year. The whole supply chain, from the farm to the grocery store. is geared toward meeting that expectation. From apples to zucchini, produce has to fit within very specific ranges for size, shape, color and other parameters. Some produce that doesn’t make it goes to a processor for juicing or other uses, but many of the imperfect fruit and vegetables never make it out of the field. 
Other factors contribute to high waste rates as well. Contracting practices that are common in the produce industry, as well as the threat of bad weather, pests and price volatility, encourage growers to overplant. Labor shortages that are exacerbated by the sorry state of U.S. immigration policy are a factor too. 
What’s more, when prices at the time of harvest are below the cost of getting the crop to market, it can make economic sense for farmers to leave some or all of their production in the field unharvested. Product specifications are also set by entities with enormous market power—such as major retail chains—while most of the risk associated with bad weather, supply gluts that force down prices, and Nature’s imperfections land in the laps of farmers. 
And what else is wrong with this picture?
Let’s begin with the waste of food itself. As NRDC points out, reducing overall food waste by just 15 percent would provide enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year. Even though “the marketplace” may not want the crops that go to waste every day, current waste levels make no sense when looked at in the context of hunger, obesity, food justice and the impact of poor health on our economy. 
Environmentally, crops that don’t make it to market involve significant uses of water, fertilizer, pesticides and other inputs. For instance, NRDC estimated that the unsold broccoli grown in just one county (Monterey County, California) required 2.5 billion gallons of water to grow (yes, that billions with a “b”, in a state where the water wars will only intensify as water becomes more scarce). Chemical fertilizers and pesticides impact farmworkers and the environment whether the product makes it to market or not. 
Wasted crops also hold “imbedded carbon.” Carbon is released into the atmosphere when soil is tilled. Diesel fuel powers farm equipment and many agricultural chemicals start out life as crude oil. Further, only 3 percent of the food that is wasted between the farm and the fork is composted. When unsold crops end up in the landfill, they emit methane gas, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
And as noted above, farmers pay the price when they grow a crop only to plow it under or leave the edible-but-imperfect to rot. Farmer incomes are adversely impacted even though our fruit and vegetable producers grow the healthy foods that are needed by an increasingly unhealthy country. The irony is hard to beat.
Fortunately, a number of initiatives hold hope for addressing these issues. For instance, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council recently put out new food procurement guidelines calling on restaurants and institutional buyers to “buy lower on the beauty chain” by purchasing  smaller and less aesthetically perfect produce. A commitment by colleges, schools, hospitals and other institutions to purchase such “seconds” could make a real difference back on the farm. Several states in the West provide tax credits to farmers who donate crops to state food banks (providing a more effective incentive than charitable donation deductions). The California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family program uses paid, skilled farm labor to harvest unmarketable produce that is then made available to food banks at greatly discounted prices. The European Parliament has even set the aggressive goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2020. 
These are steps in the right direction, but overall, food waste largely remains a hidden problem in the U.S., shrouded in a belief that we can afford to be wasteful and that waste doesn’t have real consequences. Alas, we all pay the price for perfection.
JoAnne Berkenkamp
JoAnne Berkenkamp joined IATP in 2007 to launch and lead IATP’s Local Foods program. The Program works nationally and locally to build food systems that are scale-appropriate, transparent, environmentally sustainable and that connect all members of society with healthy and culturally appropriate foods. IATP’s Local Foods Program has become nationally known for its pioneering work on healthy cornerstores, Farm to School, farmers market innovation, value chain development in large institutional markets, and food systems policy innovation.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Monsanto Protection Act Put GM Companies Above the Federal Courts

Campaigners say that not even the US government can now stop the sale, planting, harvest or distribution of any GM seed

Monsanto and the US farm biotech industry wield legendary power. A revolving door allows corporate chiefs to switch to top posts in the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies; US embassies around the world push GM technology onto dissenting countries; government subsidies back corporate research; federal regulators do largely as the industry wants; the companies pay millions of dollars a year to lobby politicians; conservative thinktanks combat any political opposition; the courts enforce corporate patents on seeds; and the consumer is denied labels or information.
But even people used to the closeness of the US administration and food giants like Monsanto have been shocked by the latest demonstration of the GM industry's political muscle. Little-noticed in Europe or outside the US, President Barack Obama last week signed off what has become widely known as "the Monsanto Protection Act", technically the Farmer Assurance Provision rider in HR 933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2013
The key phrases are a mouthful of legal mumbo jumbo but are widely thought to have been added to the bill by the Missouri republican senator Roy Blunt who is Monsanto's chief recipient of political funds. For the record, they read:
"In the event that a determination of nonregulated status made pursuant to section 411 of Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the secretary of agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412c of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorise the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialisation and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimise potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the secretary's evaluation of the petition for nonregulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorised activities in a time manner …"
According to an array of food and consumer groups, organic farmers, civil liberty and trade unions and others, this hijacks the constitution, sets a legal precedent and puts Monsanto and other biotech companies above the federal courts. It means, they say, that not even the US government can now stop the sale, planting, harvest or distribution of any GM seed, even if it is linked to illness or environmental problems.
The backlash has been furious. Senator Barbara Mikulski, chair of the powerful Senate appropriations committee which was ultimately responsible for the bill, has apologised. A Food Democracy Now petition has attracted 250,000 names and sections of the liberal press and blogosphere are outraged. "This provision is simply an industry ploy to continue to sell genetically engineered seeds even when a court of law has found they were approved by US department of agriculture illegally," says one petition. "It is unnecessary and an unprecedented attack on US judicial review. Congress should not be meddling with the judicial review process based solely on the special interest of a handful of companies."
Remarkably, though, it has also offended the Conservative right and libertarians. FreedomWorks, the conservative thinktank that helped launch the Tea Party, says corporations should "play by the rules of the free market like everyone else, instead of hiring insider lobbyists to rewrite the rules for them in Washington". Dustin Siggins, a blogger for the Tea Party patriots has called it a "special interest loophole" for friends of Congress. "We are used to subsidies, which give your tax dollars to companies to give them advantages over competitors. We are used to special interest tax loopholes and tax credits, which provide competitive and financial benefits to those with friends in Congress. And we are familiar with regulatory burden increases, which often prevent smaller companies from competing against larger ones because of the cost of compliance. This is a different kind of special interest giveaway altogether. This is a situation in which a company is given the ability to ignore court orders, in what boils down to a deregulation scheme for a particular set of industries," he writes.
Even Monsanto appears a touch embarrassed. The company whose seeds make up 93% of US soybeans, 88% of cotton and 86% of maize and which on Wednesday announced a 22% increase in earnings, has sought to align itself with others in the industry, even though it is far and away the main beneficiary. In a statement, it says: "As a member of the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO), we were pleased to join major grower groups in supporting the Farmer Assurance Provision, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Seed Trade Association, the American Soybean Association, the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Cotton Council, and several others."
The company's friends are now on the defensive, seeking to blame "activists". Here is John Entine, director of the Genetic Literacy Project, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the pro-business, anti-regulation think tank: "The legislation does not, as critics allege, allow farmers or Monsanto to sell seeds proven to be harmful. Rather, it provides legal consistency for farmers and businesses so that they will not be jerked around by temporary findings by competing court systems as activist challenges make their way up the legal food chain."
The only good news, say the opponents, is that because the "Monsanto Protection Act" was part of the much wider spending bill, it will formally expire in September. The bad news however is that the precedent has been set and it is unlikely that the world's largest seed company and the main driver of the divisive GM technology will ever agree to give up its new legal protection. The company, in effect, now rules.
John Vidal
John Vidal is the Guardian's environment editor. He joined the paper in 1995 after working for Agence France Presse, North Wales Newspapers and the Cumberland News. He is the author of McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial (1998) and has contributed chapters to books on topics such as the Gulf war, new Europe and development