The Consolidated and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 was primarily focused on funding to avoid a government shutdown. Embedded in the verbose and sleep inducing language of the legislation was the Farmer Assurance Provision, now commonly known as the Monsanto Protection Act that placed the global agrochemical giant above federal law. The Monsanto Protection Act effectively prohibited federal courts from having the ability to stop the sale or planting of highly controversial genetically modified (GMO) or engineered (GE) seeds.
This special interest legislation, allegedly drafted in collusion with Monsanto, placed farmers and consumers across the globe at risk. In passing the bill, many congressional members didn’t even know that the Monsanto language was in the legislation package.
How Existing Law Changed
If a company wants to produce a genetically modified crop, approval is required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Should the USDA approve planting and growing the crop, its status won’t be regulated and the company can grow the genetically modified crop. Non-regulation was opposed and litigated primarily on the ground that the USDA failure to perform an adequate environmental review, resulting in biotech companies being on the receiving end of injunctions compelling them to stop growing crops that were already planted. With the law having been amended by Section 735, biotech companies were permitted to apply for a temporary permit from the USDA to continue growing the crop.
Constitutionality of Section 735
The Monsanto Protection Act took the separate power of judicial review from the courts. The act replaced it with the rubber stamp of mandatory approval by the USDA whereby an appointed executive officer is not permitted, but required to reverse a judicial order. Limitations on the authority of the executive branch would be reduced to nullities when the threat of review through the courts is stolen. Such limitations would allow the executive branch to act with impunity. Even with a showing of present or imminent risk of irreparable harm, the USDA could overrule a court’s decision.
Monsanto’s Global Impact
With globalization came more multinational corporations and world markets. To the widespread detriment of local farmers, food safety, and the global environment, Monsanto is closing its grip on the world seed market. The company has made frequent use of the courts to defend and maintain its seed patents, having sued thousands of farmers for alleged patent infringements. Monsanto even sued one farmer that never used its products. Wind blew seed from another farm onto his property, and Monsanto crops began growing on his property.
The company has also infamously utilized its “terminator technology” that produces plants with sterile seeds. Farmers can’t recycle these seeds. They’re required to buy new ones, allegedly at highly inflated prices, particularly for cotton seeds in India. The company denies using terminator technology.
Monsanto is even alleged to have required farmers to enter into contracts not to plant their own harvested seeds before they can purchase Monsanto seeds.
Section 735 set a terrifying precedent. Corporations have learned they can now get around the courts if Congress is on their side. And Congress has shown pretty clearly that they are on whoever’s side shows them the money.