Buried in this year's continuing resolution was a measure coined the "biotech rider" that has again given the anti-biotech crowd a new battle cry, but in reality protects farmers and helps science determine biotechnology's fate, not activists.
Those who oppose the provision - dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act" – said the action "undermines the independence of judicial review and gives biotech seed companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical a blank check on the approval of new genetically engineered crops."
But the 22-line provision, more properly deemed the Farmer Assurance Provision, contains no reference to Monsanto, protection of Monsanto, or benefit to Monsanto. It does seek to protect farmers, and Monsanto supported the provision, as part of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Also supporting it were the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Assn., the National Corn Growers Assn., the National Sugarbeet Growers Assn., the National Wheat Growers Assn., the American Seed Trade Assn., the American Retailers Assn., National Cotton Council, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and many others.
The provision gives the Secretary of Agriculture authority to introduce temporary stewardship requirements that allow for the partial deregulation of a biotechnology product while legal challenges are pending on a prior science-based determination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the product is safe for cultivation.
This authority and interim measures was what was previously imposed by USDA for glyphosate-tolerant sugarbeets in 2011. However, even those interim measures for sugarbeets are now being litigated, which has growers threatened with the disruption of growing the crops or even crop destruction as a result of court decisions.
For alfalfa, the nation's fourth largest crop, court cases bogged down the planting of herbicide tolerant alfalfa for nearly four years. Ag groups explain that even though the Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that an injunction was unnecessarily burdensome, "the livelihood of farmers is still at the mercy of individual rulings."
Farmers need the assurance that once they have adopted an approved product, their ability to plant and harvest their crop will not be unnecessarily jeopardized, explained agricultural groups who support the measure.
After President Barack Obama signed the continuing resolution, one group went as far as calling on him to issue an executive order to support the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.
But the truth is the provision doesn't restrict the right to challenge USDA's determination. Anti-biotechnology organizations have repeatedly used procedural lawsuits as a tactic to try to overturn science-based decisions by USDA. Those same groups have publicly stated they intend to continue to use the court system to block the commercialization of products.
This provision isn't about backroom deals or letting seed providers off the hook. It's about letting science do the deciding, not courts and not those with an agenda.
This is also about saving resources – both at the USDA and addressing a real threat to farmers.
Lawsuits have put a tremendous burden on resources at USDA and have resulted in significant delays in approval of new, innovative products that benefit farmers, consumers and the environment. Worldwide food demand will require production to rise 50% by 2030, meaning biotechnology has to be a tool at our disposable to reach the ambitious needs.
The measure has widespread backing among the farming community and likely will create more controversy as new farm legislation is considered this year. It has had bipartisan support since last summer, but the misinformation out there about the bill will require education on the need for the provision among Congress as well as your family, friends and neighbors.