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The ‘Monsanto Rider’: Are Biotech Companies About to Gain Immunity from Federal Law?
Alexis Baden-Mayer and Ronnie Cummins, Alternet
The Secretary of Agriculture would be required to grant a permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, regardless of environmental impact.
While many Americans were firing up barbecues and breaking out the sparklers to celebrate Independence Day, biotech industry executives were more likely chilling champagne to celebrate another kind of independence: immunity from federal law.
A so-called “Monsanto rider,” quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, would require – not just allow, but require – the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed. All the farmer or the biotech producer has to do is ask, and the questionable crops could be released into the environment where they could potentially contaminate conventional or organic crops and, ultimately, the nation’s food supply.
Unless the Senate or a citizen’s army of farmers and consumers can stop them, the House of Representatives is likely to ram this dangerous rider through any day now…
Why should you be outraged about this provision? For all these reasons:
· The Monsanto Rider is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Judicial review is an essential element of U.S. law, providing a critical and impartial check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods. Maintaining the clear-cut boundary of a Constitutionally-guaranteed separation of powers is essential to our government. This provision will blur that line.
· Judicial review is a gateway, not a roadblock. Congress should be fully supportive of our nation’s independent judiciary. The ability of courts to review, evaluate and judge an issue that impacts public and environmental health is a strength, not a weakness, of our system. The loss of this fundamental safeguard could leave public health, the environment and livelihoods at risk.
· It removes the “legal brakes” that prevent fraud and abuse. In recent years, federal courts have ruled that several USDA GE crop approvals violated the law and required further study of their health and environmental impact. These judgments indicated that continued planting would cause harm to the environment and/or farmers and ordered interim planting restrictions pending further USDA analysis and consideration. The Monsanto rider would prevent a federal court from putting in place court-ordered restrictions, even if the approval were fraudulent or involved bribery.
· It’s unnecessary and duplicative. Every court dealing with these issues is supposed to carefully weigh the interests of all affected farmers and consumers, as is already required by law. No farmer has ever had his or her crops destroyed as a result. USDA already has working mechanisms in place to allow partial approvals, and the Department has used them, making this provision completely unnecessary.
· It shuts out the USDA. The rider would not merely allow, it would compel the Secretary of Agriculture to immediately grant any requests for permits to allow continued planting and commercialization of an unlawfully approved GE crop. With this provision in place, USDA may not be able to prevent costly contamination episodes like Starlink or Liberty Link rice, which have already cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The rider would also make a mockery of USDA’s legally mandated review, transforming it into a ‘rubber stamp’ approval process.
· It’s a back-door amendment of a statute. This rider, quietly tacked onto an appropriations bill, is in effect a substantial amendment to USDA’s governing statute for GE crops, the Plant Protection Act. If Congress feels the law needs to be changed, it should be done in a transparent manner by holding hearings, soliciting expert testimony and including full opportunity for public debate.
If we allow this “Monsanto Rider” to be slipped into the FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, consumers and farmers will lose what little control we have now over what we plant and what we eat.
If you would like to join the hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens who have already written to Congress in support of the DeFazio amendment, please sign our petition here.
(6 July 2012)
Rebecca Solnit, Orion
THE ANTI-WAR POET and soldier Siegfried Sassoon reports that toward the end of World War I, Winston Churchill told him that war is the normal occupation of man. Challenged, Churchill amended this to “war—and gardening.” Are the two opposites? Some agriculture is a form of war, whether it’s clearcutting rainforest, stealing land from the poor, contaminating the vicinity, or exploiting farmworkers, and some of our modern pesticides are descended from chemical warfare breakthroughs for the First World War. But gardening represents a much wider spectrum of human activity than war, and if war is an act of the state, gardening is far, far more ancient than city-states (if not nearly so old as squabbling).
Can it be the antithesis of war, or a cure for social ills, or an act of healing the divisions of the world? When you tend your tomatoes, are you producing more than tomatoes? How much more? Is peace a crop, or justice? The American Friends Service Committee set up a series of garden plots to be tended by people who’d been on opposite sides of the Yugoslavian wars, but a lot of people hope to overcome the wars of our time more indirectly through their own gardening and farming.
We are in an era when gardens are front and center for hopes and dreams of a better world or just a better neighborhood, or the fertile space where the two become one. There are farm advocates and food activists, progressive farmers and gardeners, and maybe most particular to this moment, there’s a lot of urban agriculture. These city projects hope to overcome the alienation of food, of labor, of embodiment, of land, the conflicts between production and consumption, between pleasure and work, the destructiveness of industrial agriculture, the growing problems of global food scarcity, seed loss. The list of ideals being planted and tended and sometimes harvested is endless, but the question is simple. What crops are you tending? What do you hope to grow? Hope? Community? Health? Pleasure? Justice? Gardens represent the idealism of this moment and its principal pitfall, I think. A garden can be, after all, either the ground you stand on to take on the world or how you retreat from it, and the difference is not always obvious…
Grow your own: making Australian cities more food-secure
Paul Burton, The Conversation
Food security has typically been framed as an issue of global concern, concentrated within developing countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation defines food security in terms of the availability of food sufficient to meet the needs of all people at all times, and while this conception acknowledges that people must have the wherewithal to meet their own needs, it can lead to a preoccupation with the gross volume of food produced, at the expense of questions of distribution and adequacy.
Alternative notions of food sovereignty address some of these conceptual shortcomings and importantly also reveal more clearly the problems of food accessibility and adequacy we face in Australia. And as more than 90% of us now live in cities we recognise that food security is as much an urban problem as it is one of rural food production.
This shift from relatively simple to more nuanced conceptions of food security helps to explain why in a recent survey conducted by the ANU a small but significant number of Australians said they were worried their food would run out in the coming week and a smaller group said that occasionally their food ran out and when it did, they had no money to buy any more. This survey also revealed that just over 3% of those surveyed had been forced to rely on some form of emergency food assistance in the last year and that just over 30% grow food at home in order to save money…
(9 July 2012)
What’s Cooking? the UK’s potential food crisis
Staff,University of Manchester Sustainable Consumption Institute
UK consumers could face dramatically reduced food choices in the future unless much more is done to cut greenhouse gas emissions, a hard-hitting University of Manchester report warns.
The Sustainable Consumption Institute research claims food which families now take for granted, such as meat and fresh vegetables, could become too expensive for many if global temperatures rise in line with the current trends and reach 4⁰C within the lifetime of many people.
Even if families continue to take steps to lower their carbon emissions from energy use, global farming emissions will continue to rise because of our growing appetite for energy-intensive foods and a rising demand to meet just basic living standards across the world.
Only by reducing consumption of energy, food, goods and services can we have a good chance of minimising the harmful effects of global warming, the report warns.
Should the temperature rise above 2⁰C, consumers could find their shopping habits are radically altered. Most meats would soar in price, meaning families could have to adapt to a meat-free diets, the possibility of failing crops and staple food sources such as rice and wheat potentially being be devastated…
(4 July 2012)
Can food save the high street? (audio)
Sheila Dillon, BBC Radio 4
Sheila Dillon asks if food is the key to reviving the Britain’ declining high streets. Food expert, Henrietta Green visits Croydon town centre which has just been awarded a grant by retail guru,Mary Portas to see if a radical food future is possible and asks what are the barriers to bringing quality food back to our high streets.
Producer: Maggie Ayre.
(9 July 2012)
Very Local Food at “Frau Gerolds Garten” in Zürich
Dimitri, Newly Swissed
Frau Gerolds Garten is the new place to be in Zürich! This extreme locavore establishment is certainly bringing a whole new vibe to Zürich’s food culture, since most of the produce is grown smack on site.
While popular in the hip capitals of the world, the concept of urban gardening for fresh consumption is still developing in Switzerland. On the other hand, you could argue that due to the small size of the country, Swiss food is “local” by definition…
Frau Gerolds Garten has just opened its doors in Zürich’s up-and-coming Kreis 5 district. This spacious outdoor restaurant will be operating through the summer
… Fifteen overseas shipping containers have been stacked to create this urban oasis. The terrasse with bar has unusual views over the railway lines. There is also a huge tent providing shade for the beer garden, as well as a cool chill-out area with Fatboy pillows…
(4 July 2012)
Lots of photos at original article. Suggested by EB contributor Lawrence D. -BA