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Farmers need protection in GMO disputes

GMO critics have mischaracterized a measure designed to protect farmers from conflicting court decisions as a bill to benefit biotech developers.

Editorial


The Farmer Assurance Provision is formally Section 735 of the Continuing Resolution of 2013, passed in March to fund the government through the end of September. It has now expired, and biotech critics are waging war to keep it out of the farm bill pending in Congress.

From the beginning opponents in Washington and in the blogosphere inaccurately dubbed it the “Monsanto Protection Act,” charging that it was secretly tucked into the continuing resolution to benefit giant agribusiness concerns.

In reality the measure sought to protect farmers who plant an approved genetically modified crop that is subsequently found by a court to have been deregulated in error. Legislators wanted to make sure growers wouldn’t be forced to dig up crops that were legal at planting time.

It’s valuable protection that farmers need as the environmental legal assault on biotech deregulation produces conflicting court rulings.

It clarified the Secretary of Agriculture’s authority to grant the crop temporary and partial deregulation, under whatever conditions necessary to minimize adverse effects, while the USDA remedies the errors found by the court.

In such cases, Monsanto and other GMO developers have no liability. Cases challenging the deregulation of GMO crops are brought against the USDA, which has sole regulatory authority over such matters. The measure protected farmers, not Monsanto.

Even some Monsanto critics point out that the measure didn’t offer the USDA any more authority than it has already exercised in other cases. It’s supporters say there’s nothing in the provision that prevents the USDA from using its powers under the Plant Protection Act from barring something proven to be dangerous from market.

Critics of the provision claim it unconstitutionally bars courts from blocking the sale, continued cultivation or harvesting of crops. The Supreme Court has already ruled that lower courts should not automatically prohibit the planting, harvesting or sale of biotech crops found to have been deregulated in error.

Many are falsely convinced that Congress has granted biotech companies immunity from civil lawsuits claiming damages caused by their genetic modifications.

Nothing in the provision addresses GMO developers or liability for damages resulting from their products. Several legal authorities assure us that Monsanto could face considerable liability if growers can demonstrate harm and prove the company’s negligence. That’s a high bar, but one set by the courts, not the Farmer Assurance Provision.

Now Democratic senators have vowed to keep it out of the next farm bill, all to thwart evil biotech developers. But once the seed has been purchased, Monsanto and the other corporate interests have made their money. It’s the farmer who risks financial ruin when a court ruling makes a crop illegal in mid growing season.

The politicians are actually thwarting the family farmers who at election time they pledge to protect.



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