Organizations that are anti-biotech are throwing a fit over the “farmers assurance provision” that was included in the House of Representative’s agricultural appropriations committee bill. The House committee voted to include Section 733 of the Fiscal Year 2013 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The section/provision will let farmers grow genetically modified/biotech crops during legal appeals of Department of Agriculture approved biotech crops. 

The Food Democracy Now organization has mobilized what it claims are 300,000 members and the membership of other anti-biotech groups to eliminate Section 733. To hype up their membership bases, the provision is being called the “Monsanto Protection Act” because Monsanto is a major biotech company introducing various genetically modified crops that could possibly continue to be planted.

Food Democracy Now claims the provision “strips the rights of federal courts to halt the sale and planting of genetically engineered crops during the legal appeals process. It allows for biotech companies to continue to sell their unapproved seeds to farmers, who could plant them while important legal appeals are taking place, instead of halting the planting of the unapproved crop until the court settled the appeal as has been done up until now.”

Of course, the activists have found a representative of like thinking who has sponsored an amendment to strip Section 733 from the appropriations bill. Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.-D) introduced the amendment, reported Food Democracy Now.

On the other side, nine organizations have expressed strong support of Section 733. Those groups are the Agricultural Retailers Association; American Farm Bureau Federation; American Seed Trade Association; American Soybean Association; American Sugarbeet Growers Association; Biotechnology Industry Organization; National Association of Wheat Growers; National Corn Growers Association and National Cotton Council.

The activist groups’ contention is wrong. The claim is that farmers are planting unapproved seed whereas in reality the farmer protection provision is geared toward allowing farmers to proceed in planting, or at least harvesting biotech crops, after an initial registration/approval. Farmers are not planting crops that were unapproved/unregistered by the USDA.

The situation has developed that every biotech/GMO crop approval is challenged by activists, which could delay farmer planting for years as court challenges stretch on and on. As noted by lawyers who have been involved in court cases, biotech crops have not been found to be unsafe. Setbacks in court to biotech crops have occurred as the registration paperwork was found to not be completed to micro detail.

"A stream of lawsuits" have slowed approvals and created uncertainties for companies developing modified plants, James Greenwood, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, was quoted by Bloomberg News.

Two big examples of past problems for companies and farmers that spurred the protection provision in the appropriations bill were Roundup Ready sugar beets and alfalfa. 

The USDA's approval of the modified alfalfa was overturned in 2007 by a California district judge who banned further plantings pending the completion of a more thorough environmental impact statement, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the planting ban in June 2010. The USDA re-approved the crop in January 2011 after completing the court-ordered study. In an accommodation for sugar beet growers, the USDA last year allowed farmers to plant modified sugar beets while the agency completed a court-mandated environmental impact statement. That followed another district judge in California ruling in 2009 that the USDA erred in approving the crop without appropriate scrutiny.