Is Outrage Over the Monsanto Protection Act a Turning Point for the Food Movement?

In March, when I first wrote about how the biotech rider—called the Monsanto Protection Act by its vocal opponents—undercut the constitutional concept of separation of powers, it seemed hardly anyone (other than the usual advocacy groups) was paying attention. But then a lot of people got mad, really mad.

Within a few short weeks the issue exploded in the mainstream media, with the surest sign the issue had hit the big time being (what else?) coverage by The Daily Show (hilariously entitled, “You Stuck What Where?”). Another indication was outrage even from a Tea Party blogger.

Quick refresher: Biotech companies have to get permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to plant new genetically-engineered crops. In recent years, groups such as the Center for Food Safety have been gaining traction by filing lawsuits challenging federal approval, thereby stopping some novel crops from being planted when courts agreed that USDA failed to conduct proper environmental oversight.

Enter the biotech rider, an unprecedented end-run around such court decisions. The law—conveniently snuck into the must-pass budget bill—requires USDA to ignore a court order and allow the planting of new genetically engineered crops while the agency conducts further review, after which time it’s likely too late to undo any harm. It would be like the Food and Drug Administration saying to food makers: go ahead and put those potentially dangerous food additives on the market while we keep studying them to see if they make people sick. (OK, we do that too but only because we don’t have laws against it.)

Despite political cynicism running at sky-high levels, this corporate power grab sent many people over the edge, like a collective yell of “I am mad as hell and am not going to take it anymore.” But it didn’t happen by accident. It took hard grassroots efforts of groups like Food Democracy Now! to take this issue to its constituents, raise bloody hell over it, and demand accountability from our elected representatives, that got this story to break through.

The Iowa-based group (comprised of two staff) delivered more than 300,000 petitions of outrage to Washington, DC. They also started calling the measure the “Monsanto Protection Act” – a smart use of framing to get attention, as “biotech rider” wasn’t cutting it. Dave Murphy, executive director of Food Democracy Now! explains:

Republicans understand the importance of language—that’s why they say Obamacare and Clear Skies Initiative—but Democrats, not so much. I nicknamed the rider The Monsanto Protection Act as soon as I saw Congress calling it the Farmer Assurance Provision. As a former conservative, I know it’s important to tell the truth about what you’re really fighting.

In the noisy aftermath, even Monsanto’s hometown newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, published a scathing editorial blaming Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blount for “a sleazy bit of business” that “undermines the legislative process.”

That’s the good news: that when food industry lobbyists do something so over the top, we can marshal our resources to respond effectively. Even though we didn’t win that particular battle, the outrage over Monsanto’s colossal overreach did bring massive attention to the issue. And that message came through loud and clear both in the media and at least to some members of Congress.

Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Democrat chair of the Senate appropriations committee, (where the rider was slipped in) put out a defensive apology in the wake of the uproar, a move unheard of by politicians. Her spokesperson tried to explain: “Senator Mikulski understands the anger over this provision. She didn’t put the language in the bill and doesn’t support it either.” What classic politician-speak: defending her vote by saying she doesn’t support what she voted for. No matter, the statement alone points to the success of the backlash.

We’ve been hearing for some time now that the food movement needs to demonstrate some chops to gain more credibility, and I agree. We can’t just be a small collection of writers and polite foodies talking to each other. The only way to beat back a powerful industry is to prove we have enough people outraged over our broken food system to hold our politicians accountable. During his 2008 campaign, President Obama promised to fight for labeling of genetically-modified foods. But now (according to close sources) his attitude is: “show me the movement.”

With more than six million votes to label GE food in California for Prop 37, the ballot initiative that lost narrowly (48.6 to 51.4 percent) leading to the rise of at least 20 states considering labeling bills, combined with the recent outrage over the Monsanto Protection Act, it appears that movement has arrived.

Now it’s time for next steps, and we have a critical opportunity with the farm bill (once again) making its way through Congress. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced (along with several co-sponsors) an amendment (number 978) to the farm bill that would completely repeal the biotech rider. From Senator Merkley’s statement on his proposal: “The Monsanto Protection Act is an outrageous example of a special interest loophole. This provision nullifies the actions of a court that is enforcing the law to protect farmers, the environment and public health. That is unacceptable.”

Unacceptable is right, to an outraged senator and hopefully millions of other Americans. Now is the time to demonstrate our strength. Enough is enough. You can take action at Food Democracy Now!’s website here.

17 Responses to “Is Outrage Over the Monsanto Protection Act a Turning Point for the Food Movement?”

  1. Kaye Loraine says:

    Thank you so much for teaching good health and letting people know about this food fraud. GMO isn’t food, it is chemicals and dangerous to humans. Keep up the good work

  2. I would love to share this on Wakingtimes with a link and bio. Would that be o.k.?

  3. SM SURFER says:

    I find it quite comical…. why the FDA, the USDA and FOOD SAFETY … are run by Monsanto and Dupont execs…. but we dare not ask…WHO APPOINTED ….
    the senior VP of Monsanto to head the FDA, and likewise for the USDA, and FOOD SAFETY ??? It was PRESIDENT OBAMA who appointed them into these high ranking offices. Hmmm, always protecting the real culprit … how politically correct !!!

  4. Great article! Will continue to read your work. Author,food critic,tv producer.betsey beaven

  5. Victoria Ollerich says:

    Thank you for the very interesting article.
    Myself along with my adult children and grandchildren
    took part in the March against Monsanto on Saturday
    5/25/2013. It felt good to participate in something
    one believes so strongly.
    However, we know that this is just the beginning and
    we will all be there in the future.
    Thank you again for your work.

  6. Victoria Ollerich says:

    The Monsanto Protection Act is an abomination.
    One could not say it more clearly that your article.
    It certainly will help to further waken people.
    Thank you

  7. madeleine mccristal says:

    hi there am from australia…. just got your site from mercola. you are doing such a great job , am sure we are going to need the same here pretty soon . thank you for your work , and i will continue to watch your site. madeleine

  8. Richard says:

    We can’t depends ton Obama to do anything. He has no influence to move congress. The people must speak upon the people’s House. Deluge congress, especially republicans and republicans supported by tea party-ers demanding action.

  9. Sandy Lee says:

    I do believe that the MPA is a turning point for the food movement. I was not aware , until very recently that so much powerfull and legal attention to make sure that Monsanto (a company with a background in vicious toxins) can simutaneously interject its power and money and genetic manipulations into the food supply of the American public without any discussion, independent testing or standards before introducing or even notifying an already undernourished overfed public. I think this is far more more subversive than anything someone can do with a shoe in an airport. To begin, I would like to see a permanent separation of toxins and food. Allowing a company to handle both responsibly is the same as asking foxes and chickens to be room mates because the fox promised not to bother the chickens. The arrogance that prevails will, all by itself, prove that , “Too big to fail”, is a deadly fallacy. There is no oversight in any of this. There is also no vision for the safe and healthy future of the next generation of American citizens. I find this terribly sad and disgraceful that we should have to take legal action to move the legislators into the light. Quite frankly, I would like to see them removed from office. Anyone who approved this has no right to represent anybody.

  10. [...] read info by michele simon, author of "appetite for profit: how the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back," on repealing the monsanto protection act:…; [...]

  11. [...] read info by michele simon, author of "appetite for profit: how the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back," on repealing the monsanto protection act:…; [...]

  12. [...] read info by michele simon, author of "appetite for profit: how the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back," on repealing the monsanto protection act:…; [...]

  13. [...] read info by michele simon, author of "appetite for profit: how the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back," on repealing the monsanto protection act:…; [...]

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