Hidden among the cluttered news cycle of this election season is a crucial debate about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
September 30 marked the expiration of the 2007 Farm Bill, and the 2012 replacement is now sitting in the House of Representatives. It is unlikely that Congress will vote on the bill until after the elections, so food-safety advocates are ramping up their outreach efforts around this issue in advance of any decision.
What’s the big deal with the new bill? Most importantly, the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill contains three industry-friendly provisions, numbered 10011, 10013, and 10014. Collectively, they have come to be known as the “Monsanto Rider,” and the name is entirely appropriate. If passed, this bill would make it more difficult to stem the tide of GMO foods hitting store shelves.
These three provisions in the 2012 Farm Bill would grant regulatory powers solely to the United States Department of Agriculture, preventing other federal agencies from reviewing GMO applications and preventing the USDA from accepting outside money for further study. The bill would also shorten the deadline for approval to one year, with an optional 180-day extension.
And here’s the kicker: the approval time bomb. If the USDA misses the truncated review deadline, the GMO in question is granted automatic approval.
Though the average time for approval of GMO applications is now three years, the USDA has never denied a single one. Environmental activists currently have the ability to delay introduction of an iffy crop by keeping approval held up for months at a time pending further review. If the 2012 Farm Bill is approved with the Monsanto Rider, this tool is removed from the arsenal.
Food-safety advocates like the Organic Consumer Association point to polling that shows nine out of ten American consumers want GMO labeling, and to the strength of the organizing in favor of GMO labeling through California’s Proposition 37 ballot initiative. The Organic Consumers Association and allied organizations like the Center for Food Safety are calling upon their membership base to let their elected officials know where they stand on this issue, through phone calls, letter writing, and protest.
“People understand that the GMO foods entering our food supply have not been safety tested,” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director at the Organic Consumers Association. “There isn’t enough science backing them, and people want to know when food is genetically engineered. That opinion is very strong, and hopefully members of congress will be paying attention to the widespread opposition, and they’ll connect with voters. Hopefully, they’ll understand that [voters] matter more than the campaign donors.”
Because wouldn’t it be nice if they had to tell you what’s in your food?
A grassroots coalition of California citizens has an initiative on the ballot to require the labeling of genetically modified organisms. While Monsanto and other corporations have spent tens of millions to silence them, the initiative seems likely to succeed.
Video: Vandana Shiva explains the effect of GMOs on Indian agriculture—and how to promote home-grown alternatives.