I think you’re referring to what Congress and the agriculture community call the “Farmer Assurance Provision,” a small piece of legislative language designed to protect farmers by providing them with the assurance that once they have adopted approved GMO seed, their ability to plant and harvest their crop will not be jeopardized by lengthy litigation. Anti-GMO groups have repeatedly used procedural lawsuits as a tactic to try to overturn science-based decisions by USDA and disrupt the regulatory process. The Farmer Assurance Provision aims to make USDA’s decisions more predictable and defensible.
It is true that the legislative process is almost always confusing to outsiders. However, there is nothing nefarious about the Farmer Assurance Provision. Still, critics have questioned the process for passing this tiny piece of legislative language—it is literally a few lines long—for a couple of reasons.
First, the provision was included in a larger piece of legislation. This is nothing out of the ordinary. In order to make a small statutory change such as this, it is absolutely necessary to find a legislative vehicle to do so. It happens all the time.
Second, because the statutory change is rather minor and not particularly exciting, it did not receive much attention until detractors began attacking the provision based largely on a false understanding of what it does. To be precise, the provision mandates the Secretary of Agriculture’s to use his or her authority to introduce temporary requirements that allow GMO seed to still be grown under regulatory oversight while legal challenges are pending on an earlier decision by USDA that the product is safe. This is an authority that the Secretary of Agriculture has used in the past in the case of sugar beets and the authority has been affirmed in federal court. Congress has had several hearings on the regulatory process and judicial challenges to GMO approvals. Despite its simplicity, and the fact that it had broad support for the agriculture community and bipartisan support in Congress, the Farmer Assurance Provision did receive quite a bit of public debate once it had been introduced at the committee level and before Congress voted on it.
Finally, the language is incorrectly seen as only helping Monsanto. It is true that the highest profile challenges to USDA’s regulatory reviews of GMOs have involved Monsanto technology. However, the biggest beneficiaries of the Farmer Assurance Provision are farmers like myself as well as small and public biotech researchers. After adopting herbicide tolerant alfalfa because it is safer for the environment and helped us create a healthier crop rotation, my family was unable to plant the most productive and profitable GMO seeds for several years and we feared that we might have to destroy our crop or that we might not being able to sell what we harvested. This was entirely due to procedural lawsuits that have since failed and USDA’s original decisions have been upheld. The Farmer Assurance Provision reduces this risk in the future. In addition, attempts such as this to strengthen regulation and make the process more predictable will ensure small companies and public researchers will have an incentive to invest in new, beneficial GMO technology and can compete with larger innovators who have the means to overcome excessively burdensome and costly regulatory and legal barriers.