DoYourResearch's picture
Why does it sound like the Monsanto Protection Act was slipped through Congress in a way that was anything but "transparent"?

A:Expert Answer

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 GM 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―which 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 that the secretary of agriculture use his or her authority to introduce temporary requirements that allow GM 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 helping only 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 me, 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 GM 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 due entirely 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 GM technology and can compete with larger innovators who have the means to overcome excessively burdensome and costly regulatory and legal barriers.

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Rickinreallife's picture

Probably because the source of your information has so little respect for your intellect that they felt they could blatantly misrepresent what the provision is and does, and its origins and you would buy it. Here is an article that presents a very different picture:

What is blatantly false is the claim by Food Democracy Now and others that the so-called Monsanto Protection Act bars lawsuits against Monsanto and prevents USDA from regulating GMO's that have been found to be harmful, and that it ties the hands of the courts. The provision does nothing of the sort. The issue is what is the process is if a court revokes a deregulated status for a GMO crop variety due to a procedural defect found in the NEPA review. In no case where groups have legally challenged a deregulation, have groups proven or even alleged actual environmental harm. They simply allege that NEPA review was incomplete. Nothing prevents anyone from continuing to challenge USDA deregulatory decisions or the courts from ruling in their favor. And in no case to date has a court decision to revoke a deregulated status and remand the application back to USDA for further consideration been decided on a known or even alleged threat to public health and safety or environmental harm.

The regulatory relevance of a court decision revoking a deregulated status is the crop reverts back to regulated status, meaning that its planting and disposition is once again subject to USDA regulation. The question that the provision answers is what happens to farmers and crops already planted and in the commercial chain during the period the crop was deregulated. Anti-GMO groups want the courts in every case to enjoin its planting and harvesting, and to even order destruction of crops in the field. Part of the reason for this is to intentionally create an uncertainty for producers and impose actual economic hardships on producers to scare producers away. What the biotech rider says is to expressly authorize USDA to impose restrictions on the planting and use of a crop, i.e. to regulate the crop again, if a court ruling revokes a previously deregulated status. USDA already arguably has this authority. Furthermore, this reregulation remedy, rather than automatic injunction and court ordered destruction is precisely what the Supreme Court itself ordered in 2007 in Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, overturning a lower court's imposition of an injunction. “An injunction is a drastic and extraordinary remedy, which should not be granted as a matter of course,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the 7-1 majority, concluding that the US District Court in San Francisco had “abused its discretion.” It hardly seems accurate reprentations that the Monsanto Protection Act strips courts of power, when the Supreme Court itself, in a 7-1 decision [Thats 7 to 1] told the USDA to do exactly what the biotech rider provision only makes explicit that they have the power to do. Also, the biotech rider does not, and cannot, impair the Courts authority to order injunction and even destruction of crops already planted in the event that revocation of deregulated status is based upon a finding of actual or imminent harm.

DoYourResearch's picture

Thanks for the reply. I'm not sure you answered the question though. The question was directed at the manner in which it ended up in an "unrelated" bill. I'm just here trying to learn.

Rickinreallife's picture

The article I provided the link to does address that aspect. The provisions were actually introduced as a bill and had been on the radar screen for some time before it was added to the appropriations bill. However, it does appear that its eventual inclusion in the appropriations bill came as a surprise to many, which seems to be par for the course for Congress. I cannot tell you whether the manner in which is was added was unusual procedurally. I'll leave it to others to defend how it was added, but I do agree with why it was added.

DoYourResearch's picture

If the manner in which it showed up in an appropriations bill is in fact usual procedure, I think this indicates an extremely dangerous and reckless regard for American tax payers safety and well being who trust their govt appointed officials to look out for them and their families, no?

"According to reports, many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the “Monsanto Protection Act” even existed within the spending bill, HR 933; they voted in order to avert a government shutdown."

If this is true they were in fact tricked into voting for it in order to keep the govt from being de-funded. Is there any way to hold the responsible party accountable for what appears to be a clear case of deception? Because if this is the way the govt works, I think there may be an argument made for de-funding it long enough to remedy such monumental flaws before elected officials are allowed to take another penny of tax payers money.

Rickinreallife's picture

Do your research -- fair enuff

DoYourResearch's picture

Hi, I read the post you linked to, but could not find any sort of answer to my question. Perhaps you could read my question again.

Community Manager's picture

Yes we are reviewing your question. We will prioritize questions based on the number of votes they receive. We are doing our best to answer every question, however the format and response time will differ from question to question. In the meantime, the Monsanto Protection Act response - available here: - provides relevant information on the topic addressed in your question.Thank you for your patience and participation in the Q/A process.

Community Manager's picture

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