By Twilight Greenaway
It’s that exciting time of the year again when the Senate and House Appropriations Committees gets together to hash out the annual agriculture budget. I know, right? Really fun stuff.
This year, in addition to the usual underfunding of legislation that could make the food system more sustainable, the appropriations process has become especially charged, thanks to a one-paragraph addition called the “farmer assurance provision.” The provision — which the agriculture committee approved last week, but has yet to go to the full House — would allow farmers to plant and grow GMO crops before they’ve been deemed safe. Or, more accurately, if it passes, farmers will be able to plant these crops while legal battles ensue over their safety.
USDA Defies Federal Court on Sugar Beets
In the case of GMO sugar beets, another hotly contested crop, planting was supposed to be suspended, but by the point that suspension was ordered, the market had been cleared out and there were no longer enough non-GMO seeds. As we reported recently, “America faced the prospect of a 20-percent reduction in that year’s sugar crop. In response — and in defiance of the federal judge’s order — the USDA allowed farmers to plant GM sugar beets anyway.” Now, all this back and forth could be moot to most farmers (unless a crop is officially, finally deemed unsafe — and well, that hasn’t happened yet.)
Needless to say, producers of big commodity crops are excited at the prospect. As Businessweek reports:
The American Soybean Association, one of nine U.S. agriculture groups supporting the House provision, said the legislation would give farmers assurance they can plant and harvest modified crops during legal challenges.
The Center for Food Safety, which has sued over USDA approvals of biotech crops, called the bill’s language a “Monsanto profit assurance provision” that interferes with judicial oversight of agency decisions and has the potential to disrupt the global grain trade.
It only makes sense that the soybean industry would be glad to see these “legal challenges” disappear, since a whopping 94 percent of soybeans planted in this country are now genetically engineered to be herbicide resistant.
The sad fact is, the USDA’s oversight over the biotech industry has been eroding slowly for a while. If this provision makes it through the full House vote, the agency will have just about lost the reigns completely.