The so-called "Monsanto Protection Act," a controversial provision protecting the biotech giant from litigation, has found an unusual critic in the tea party.
The provision, Section 735, was slipped anonymously into the Senate version of the continuing resolution as part of the Agricultural Appropriations Bill, subsequently passed by the House and signed into law by President Barack Obama late last month.
Since then it's ignited an advocacy firestorm, with 250,000 people signing a petition opposing the provision and Food Democracy Now network organizing a protest at the White House last week. Critics -- including members of the tea party -- have expressed dismay, not only at the provision's contents, but at the secretive way in which the biotech rider was introduced.
"It is not the purview of Tea Party Patriots to comment on the merits of GMOs -– that is a discussion and debate for experts and activists within that field," wrote Dustin Siggins, who blogs for Tea Party Patriots, on the group's website. "From the perspective of citizens who want open, transparent government that serves the people, however, the so-called 'Monsanto Protection Act,' Section 735 of the Continuing Resolution, is one heck of a special interest loophole for friends of Congress."
The Center for Food Safety is placing blame for the measure's covert introduction with the Senate Appropriations Committee and its chairman, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). "While there are no definite fingerprints for whoever is responsible for the rider, the earmark was allowed under the direction of Senator Barbara Mikulski," the center wrote on its website. Most lawmakers appear to have been unaware the provision was even included in the C.R., according to reports.
Last week, Mikulski's office issued a statement distancing the senator from the provision. "Senator Mikulski understands the anger over this provision. She didn't put the language in the bill and doesn't support it either," the statement reads. "As Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski's first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown. That meant she had to compromise on many of her own priorities to get a bill through the Senate that the House would pass. "
The provision's impact is unclear, since the underlying spending bill expires Sept. 30. Siggins argues in his lengthy Tea Party Patriots post analyzing the issue that it sets a "dangerous precedent." He concludes:
This all can be boiled down into a single, common phrase: a special interest loophole, and a doozy at that. We are used to subsidies, which give your tax dollars to companies to give them advantages over competitors. We are used to special interest tax loopholes and tax credits, which provide competitive and financial benefits to those with friends in Congress. And we are familiar with regulatory burden increases, which often prevent smaller companies from competing against larger ones because of the cost of compliance.
However, this is a different kind of special interest giveaway altogether. This is a situation in which a company is given the ability to ignore court orders, in what boils down to a deregulation scheme for a particular set of industries.