Is this ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ bad or just misunderstood?

Corn tassels in our garden

Corn tassels in our garden

The budget continuing resolution HR 933 contains language that seems to protect seed companies from litigation. Since there has never been a single case of harm caused by GMO plants this is probably not very serious.

Section 735 of the HR 933, the budget continuing resolution contains text that some have reported protects GM seed companies from litigation. Some GMO opponents have dubbed this, inaccurately, “the Monsanto Protection Act.” We will see that it is no such thing. It says in part

In the event that a determination of non-regulated status [is] made … the Secretary of Agriculture shall, … upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner:

And most importantly

Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status…

In other words, if there is some suspicion that a regulated plant might be harmful (presumably a genetically modified plant), the farmer can continue to grow it until the Secretary of Agriculture completes the analysis of this claim. Honestly, that sounds pretty reasonable.

But most important, this really just prevents nuisance lawsuits from disrupting agriculture when there is no evidence that any genetically modified plant (GM) has ever cause any harm. There are no peer-reviewed papers that report any such harm. And there are hundreds of papers showing that no harm has ever been caused.

While the lunatic fringe has been claiming that this clause was “slipped in at the last moment,” it was in the draft law for over a year.

In addition, GM crops have been grown in the US for over 15 years, with over 3 trillion meals served, without a single verifiable problem occurring.

In addition, the European Union reports on a decade of peer-reviewed studies (over 150 studies from 300 labs) showing that there is no evidence that GM crops are in no way dangerous. And in a peer-reviewed study in Food and Chemical Technology they conclude that

There is no specific scientific evidence of harm to humans, animals, or the environment.

There is also an excellent two part set of FAQs on genetically engineered crops in the Annual Review of Plant Biology: part 1 and part 2.

In fact, fear of genetically modified crops seems to be being stoked by non-scientists whose fears have been aroused by non-science articles full of misinformation. Actual biologists are bemused by the claims of fears regarding GM crops, since they recognize that GM crops are more carefully and precisely bred than crops created by conventional cross breeding. And they are tested for 5-10 years before being introduced into the market!

Just as interesting is the fact that the factions attacking the safety of GM crops seemed to be funded by the organic food industry, presumably to find ways to prop up the prices of essentially identical organic crops. For example, during the battle to force labeling of GM crops in California (Proposition 37) it was reported by KCET that the major donors were

A really good summary of all of science behind this and the science behind these irrational fears was recently published by Alexander Stein.

To conclude, there is absolutely no evidence that GM crops cause any sort of harm, and plenty of evidence that they are harmless. With that in mind some protection for farmers who grow them is not unreasonable.

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