Thirty-eight food and consumer groups issued a letter to House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and ranking member Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) calling for elimination of the "Farmer Assurance Provision" (Sec. 733) in the FY2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill last month.
The groups, including Food Democracy Now, Center for Food Safety, and the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, say the provision would be unconstitutional, undermining USDA's oversight on genetically engineered crops and setting limitations on judicial review.
As written in the bill text, the provision allows continued plant cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities (including measures to mitigate potential adverse environmental effects) while the Secretary of Agriculture grants temporary deregulation subject to provisions in the Plant Protection Act.
According to Danielle Stuart, spokesperson for Monsanto, the bill "provides an assurance for farmers growing crops which have completed the U.S. regulatory review process that their harvest won't be jeopardized by subsequent legal disputes."
But, groups opposed to the legislation argue that this provision inherently allows farmers to continue to grow scrutinized crops during legal appeals of crop approvals.
"The 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," the groups wrote.
Joining Monsanto, the American Soybean Association backs the measure. In a letter to Reps. Rogers and Dicks, ASA and eight other agricultural associations voiced support for section 733.
"Section 733 provides certainty to growers with respect to their planting decisions. If enacted, growers would be assured that the crops they plant could continue to be grown, subject to appropriate interim conditions, even after a judicial ruling against USDA."
Their letter said 733 was a positive step to ensure that U.S. farmers and the food chain are shielded from supply disruptions caused by litigation over procedural issues unrelated to the safety of biotech crops.
Opposing groups, however, say the provision eliminates judiciary authority to resolve USDA violations and "compel USDA to take actions that might harm farmers and the environment."
Additional groups supporting the provision removal are the ACLU, Alliance for Humane Biotechnology, Food and Water Watch, Organic Consumers Alliance, Sustainable Living Systems, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others.