Last week, a particular bit of food news was in high circulation: outrage broke out over the so-called "Monsanto Protection Act," a rider that was slipped into the Appropriations Act signed by President Obama on March 26. The rider provides "temporary deregulation" of genetically-modified seeds produced by biotech companies such as Monsanto, which would protect Monsanto and others from legal challenges if their GM seeds were proven to be harmful to humans or other plants.

As we explored in a recent column, there is currently no hard evidence that GM foods are harmful to human health. But many food activists, farmers, and concerned eaters still worry that we shouldn't gamble on the safety of these largely untested foods. Additionally, many farmers have struggled when GM seeds pollinate their non-GM or organic fields, causing legal troubles and ruining crop harvests.

Monsanto has argued that the rider simply provides immunity in the "interim period," so that farmers might continue to cultivate while the companies are engaged in environmental reviews. They also wish to protect farmers from being pressured to destroy their genetically-modified crops in the case of future legal strife for biotech seed manufacturers. Politicians in favor of the rider, who prefer to refer to the rider as the Farmer Assurance Provision, include Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), the ranking republican on the agriculture appropriations subcommittee.

Many in the political sphere were infuriated that this rider seemed to sneak past most members of Congress. Politico reports that there was "little to no floor debate" on this issue. Many members of Congress - including the Senate Appropriations Chairwoman, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) - have spoken out against this particular stipulation of the Appropriations Act.

The rider is set to expire within six months, so it may not have any influence at all. In the meantime, a petition opposing the rider gained over 300,000 signatures. The Obama administration has not yet issued a statement responding to citizen pushback against the rider.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.


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