Whether you are anti-GMO, pro-GMO, or couldn’t-care-less-about-GMO you should be angered and frightened not only by the content of what lawmakers slipped into the unremarkably named “H.R. 933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013” last week, but the manner in which they did so.
Why should you care? The inserted language sets a dangerous precedent. It does so by carving out an exception in which a regulatory agency (the USDA in this case) may become answerable to no one. Traditionally such agencies fall under the purview of judicial review, meaning their practices, policies, or actions may be halted either temporarily or permanently upon a judge or judges finding issue with their actions. The judiciary in this case acts as the only mechanism the people have to prevent such agencies simply doing whatsoever their heart desires. This bill inserts language that allows the USDA to simply ignore judicial opinion and proceed under their own unbound and unchecked authority. Even laws passed by Congress may be nullified by judicial review, but no such limitation would exist for certain decisions of the USDA.
What exactly is being permitted? For the full gory details please see Title VII, Section 735. In layman’s terms it says this: if a decision of the USDA is found to be invalid (by a court) with respect to USDA’s approval of a particular plant cultivation, then if a farmer, grower, farm operator or producer requests a “temporary” (“temporary” being defined no where in the statute) permit to cultivate said plant anyway then the Secretary of Agriculture is empowered to grant such a permit, i.e. completely ignoring any court finding to the contrary. Since this language was specifically inserted with the knowledge of the very real prospect of a court eventually overturning USDA’s approval of certain GMO-seeds (principally produced by Monsanto) it has been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act”. Monsanto need no longer worry about some meddlesome activist judge interfering with USDA approval of the planting of their seeds. This is just another example of crony capitalism at its most blatant. Big business helps lawmakers get elected and they in turn pass laws that benefit those same big businesses. I will pause for a moment while the irony that President Obama actually signed this piece of legislation into law sinks in. To those that believed Obama was all about the “little guy” and was going to stick to “big business” – I rest my case.
How did this even happen? The truly scary part is that this not at all unusual. These types of unrelated “riders” are routinely inserted into bills (recall the “rum rebates” in the fiscal cliff bill earlier this year?). In this case, perhaps anticipating the firestorm that would erupt, it was inserted anonymously. That’s right, our wonderful system of governance allows random bits of text to mysteriously appear in bills without any accountability. Even better they show up at the last minute so no one even knows they are in there (so I guess Nancy Pelosi was right after all, we really do have to pass a bill to find out what’s in it).
Some may say this was just an unfortunate breakdown of the “system” and is simply a sign that we have gotten “off track” and must “reform” or otherwise “fix” the system. That is a fool’s errand. The system does not, has not, and can never work. As long as a handful of people have the legal authority to hand out lucrative favors that everyone else must pay for or comply with then the whole system is doomed to go over a much larger cliff.