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How Money Distorts Policy: The Monsanto Protection Act

J. Mijin Cha

What does $7.5 million buy you these days? If you’re Syngenta Corp, Cargill, or Monsanto it looks like it buys you a legislative rider called the “Monsanto Protection Act,” that strips federal courts of any authority to halt the planting and sale of genetically modified (GMO) seed crops, regardless of any consumer health concerns. Not a bad return on the $7.5 million these companies have donated to members of Congress since 2009.

No hearings were held on the rider and it was attached to HR 993, the short-term funding bill approved to avoid a federal government shutdown. Section 735 of the bill basically deregulates GMOs by allowing the Department of Agriculture to override judicial rulings and grant temporary permits for conventional famers to plant and grow GMOs. This provision overturns the previous standard where a court could suspend the planting and selling of GMOs if there was evidence of potential health or environmental risk or if the USDA had not properly approved the GMO.

This latest victory for corporate interests shows just how distorted our system of government has become. Without debate or transparency, Congress has stripped a separate branch of government of its authority. What is the point of having a system of checks and balances if Congress can legislate its way out of it? Now that the judiciary has been stripped of its powers, who is the check on the USDA? Congress? The same branch that stripped the judiciary of its oversight?

Reports suggest that Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester was the lone dissenter to the rider and his proposed amendment to strip the provision was never even put to a vote. So, in this case, we have a real case of bi-partisan cooperation. Republicans and Democrats worked together to subvert democratic ideals for corporate interests: a bipartisan win for corporate and monied interests; a big loss for democracy and accountable government.