(Beyond Pesticides, March 14, 2013) A group of over one hundred food businesses and retailers, and family farm, consumer, health, environmental and civil liberties groups, lead by Center for Food Safety and including Beyond Pesticides, have united to support an amendment by Senator John Tester (D-MT) (D-MT) to strike a dangerous biotech policy rider into the Continuing Resolution (CR) now being debated on the Senate floor. The biotech industry has quietly inserted the “biotech rider” (Sec. 735) into the proposed Senate CR to end judicial oversight of the regulation of genetically engineered (GE) crops. Groups say that this represents a serious and unique assault on the fundamental safeguards of our judicial system, and would negatively effect farmers, the environment, and public health across America. We urge you to call your Senators to demand that Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)pull this dangerous and unconstitutional rider, and support the Tester amendment to preserve judicial oversight over regulatory decisions the allowance of GE crops: Find your Senators’ numbers here, or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 and ask for your Senators’ office.
This dangerous rider was not included in the House-passed CR, and food safety, environmental and farm groups are extremely disappointed to see that the Senate has included it. Though wrapped in a “farmer-friendly” package, this industry-driven rider is simply a biotech industry ploy to continue to plant genetically engineered (GE) crops without court oversight of whether proper regulatory reviews were undertaken. The rider would not merely allow, but would compel the Secretary of Agriculture to immediately grant any requests for permits to allow continued planting and commercialization of an unlawfully approved GE crop.
The provision undermines USDA’s oversight of GE crops, unnecessarily interferes with the U.S. judicial review process, and could be unconstitutional. It is also completely unnecessary and serves only to offer “assurance” to agrichemical companies like Monsanto, not farmers.
On the heels of federal court decisions that have found approvals of several genetically engineered (GE) crops to be unlawful, the dangerous rider has been inserted into H.R. 933, the Senate Continuing Resolution (Sec. 735). The rider, not included in the current House CR, would strip federal courts of their authority to assess the legality of potentially hazardous GE crops. Wrapped in a “farmer-friendly” package, the so-called “farmer assurance provision” represents a serious assault on the fundamental safeguards of our judicial system and would negatively impact farmers, the environment, and public health across America.
In addition to being completely unnecessary, the rider represents an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review, which is an essential element of U.S. law and provides a critical check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment, or livelihoods. Congress should not meddle with the fundamental principles of our Constitution — the separation of powers and the checks and balances among the three branches of government.
This provision must be stricken from the Senate Continuing Resolution on the following grounds:
- Apparent unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Judicial review is an essential element of U.S. law, providing a critical and impartial check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods. Maintaining the clear-cut boundary of a Constitutionally-guaranteed separation of powers is essential to our government. This provision will blur that line.
- Judicial review is a gateway, not a roadblock. Congress should be fully supportive of our nation’s independent judiciary. The ability of courts to review, evaluate and judge an issue that impacts public and environmental health is a strength, not a weakness, of our system. The loss of this fundamental safeguard could leave public health, the environment and livelihoods at risk.
- Removing the legal brakes that prevent fraud and abuse. In recent years, federal courts have ruled that several USDA GE crop approvals violated the law and required further study of their health and environmental impact. These judgments indicated that continued planting would cause harm to the environment and/or farmers and ordered interim planting restrictions pending further USDA analysis and consideration. This outlandish provision would prevent a federal court from putting in place court-ordered restrictions, even if the approval were fraudulent or involved bribery.
- Unnecessary and duplicative. Every court to decide these issues has carefully weighed the interests of all affected farmers, as is already required by law. No farmer has ever had his or her crops destroyed as a result. USDA already has working mechanisms in place to allow partial approvals, and the Department has used them, making this provision completely unnecessary.
- USDA shut out as well. The rider would not merely allow, it would compel the Secretary of Agriculture to immediately grant any requests for permits to allow continued planting and commercialization of an unlawfully approved GE crop. With this provision in place, USDA may not be able to prevent costly contamination episodes like Starlink or Liberty Link rice, which have already cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The rider would also make a mockery of USDA’s legally mandated review, transforming it into a ”˜rubber stamp’ approval process.
- Back-door amendment of statute. This rider, quietly tacked onto an appropriations bill, is in effect a substantial amendment to USDA’s governing statute for GE crops, the Plant Protection Act. If Congress feels the law needs to be changed, it should be done in a transparent manner by holding hearings, soliciting expert testimony and including full opportunity for public debate.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Center for Food Safety