Man, that would suck if it were true, right? Good thing it isn’t. In fact, the “Monsanto Protection Act” doesn’t limit liability for Monsanto or any other biotech company. It protects the farmers who buy their product — and then only temporarily. The rider was intended to dampen some of the adverse consequences of the fact that each and every GMO is regulated as a potential “plant pest” by the government, unless and until its manufacturer completes a lengthy and onerous regulatory process to reclassify it. This arrangement gave regulators broader powers over GMOs than over legacy crops, and exposed planters who purchased them to immense regulatory risks. David Bier at the Skeptical Libertarian blog explains it well:
In August 2010, the Center for Food Safety and some organic farmers . . . managed to convince a court to void the five-year-old approval of GE sugar beet seeds. This decision, in effect, reverted the sugar beets to “pest” status. In November 2010, a federal judge ordered the sugar beet seedlings pulled from the ground, as required by law. But by this point, nearly 95 percent of domestic sugar beet production was from GE seeds. In other words, if the decision had stood, it could have destroyed as much as half of America’s granulated sugar production on purely procedural grounds.
The so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” actually does nothing to protect Monsanto. Rather, it protects the farmers that bought Monsanto seeds and planted them under the belief that it was legal to do so by granting them temporary permits for their existing crops and seeds, which have already been subjected to extensive USDA scrutiny. It does not allow them to keep planting where there are proven health risks or to keep planting at all. . . . In fact, the sale of GE seeds would still [have been] prohibited after a court finding [under the rider].
Of course, doing tort reform piecemeal, and hiding it in the creases of a continuing resolution that was never in any danger of not passing, is not ideal. And Monsanto’s is most certainly a powerful lobby. But minor deregulatory measures like this don’t merit maydays on the old ham radio.
There are legitimate political questions surrounding what GMO producers do — how should their seed patents be treated, for instance? — but the liability issue is, for Monsanto haters on the mainstream left, ancillary to the real threat, which is the very existence of these “unnatural” foods. This hysteria extends from an ill-founded conviction they share with many full-blown conspiracy theorists that GMOs are unhealthy, even deadly.
Never mind that there isn’t any proof of that. Since 2000, at least 35 peer-reviewed studies have been published on the consumption of GMOs, and every single one showed no negative effects — or positive effects — on the health of the consumer. In 2012, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a non-profit governed by a bunch of academics, concluded that GMOs “pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques” like our old friend Gregor’s. They noted that the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, and British Royal Society had all reached similar conclusions.
Virtually every soybean and ear of corn in the United States is genetically modified and already subjected to rigorous testing and regulation. And any new genotype exhibited by a crop has to be shown to be non-toxic and non-allergenic before it can be marketed for consumption. In part because of this, the AAAS concluded that requiring special labeling for foods containing GMOs — as many Monsanto-haters have called for — would “mislead and falsely alarm consumers.”
That didn’t stop a dozen states from introducing GMO-labeling bills in 2012, in no small part because of the advocacy of left-wing grassroots groups such as “Food Democracy Now!” who make no secret of their hatred for Monsanto and its ilk. On the other hand, every single one of these efforts failed, according to the Associated Press. Even California — California! — voted down a ballot measure that would have required labeling. That’s right, folks, one of the most big-government states in a country so frenzied about safety that we’re about two years from mandating bubble-wrap suits thinks the whole exercise is an alarmist waste of time.
But don’t expect it to go away. Monsanto is just too perfect an issue for a certain class of urbane lefty already inclined to food snobbery and to activism. It harmonizes with his inherent mistrust of corporations, confirms him in the superiority of his lifestyle choices, and accords with the deep strain of Rousseauian anti-modernism that runs through him. Never mind that a world without GMOs would be a hungrier world, a world in which the poor would have to pay something closer to the prices he happily bears for the peace of mind that comes from the politically correct consumption of roughage. As for the rest, well, let them eat cake. Locally sourced, sustainably produced, certified organic cake.
— Daniel Foster is NRO’s news editor.