The Farm Bill in Congress has been getting lots of attention lately. The debate in Vermont has mostly been framed around the loss of food stamp support and the need for dairy support. But there is also a subtle and dangerous part of the bill that we haven't heard much about.
Several sections, referred to collectively as the "Monsanto rider," give the GMO/chemical producing behemoth quite an offering. It prohibits any environmental review of the impact of any new genetically modified crops to be introduced onto our farmlands. Not even the fates of endangered species will be allowed to slow the pace of this brave new future of Frankencrops and Goliath profits. It also gives the USDA, already in bed with Monsanto and corporate agribusiness, sole jurisdiction over any decision about the use of GMOs, abrogating even court authority regarding adequate review of applications. To top it off, it sets an improbable deadline for each application and then declares that any not fully processed by said deadline will be approved nonetheless and forces the secretary of Agriculture to do the dirty work.
Poor Monsanto needs the help. Europe has said "no" to GMO foods; not by government edict, but (surprise, surprise) through the marketplace. European politicians didn't let corporate agribusiness prevent the labeling of GMO foods as is done here in the U.S. And so far at least, people there have little interest in having science experiments for dinner.
Monsanto also understands that some of their current faves, such as Round-Up-ready soybeans, are already facing new strains of weeds that are adapting on their own to the herbicide. In fact, Monsanto is now seeking approval for a new GMO strain of corn that can tolerate being sprayed with, you'll never guess, 2,4D. Yes, agricultural use of Agent Orange is just around the corner as far as Monsanto is concerned, and these provisions in the Farm Bill will ensure that Monsanto can all the more easily get away with its reckless assault on our ecosystems.
The action in this bill is on the House side, so I decided to contact Peter Welch's office and find out if he knew about the Monsanto rider and where he stood on the issue. A pleasant young man answered the phone. An intern, he explained that he did not know anything about Mr Welch's position. No one else was around who could take a call, so he took down my questions and promised to ask our representative and respond. After a couple of weeks, I tried again. This time an equally pleasant young woman answered, and gave me the same answer as I had received the first time. I said that I would be on the radio later and would like to call in live to try to glean an answer. This happened and was no more fruitful than the first two conversations. But it did prompt Representative Welch's office to call back; not with any information about the Farm Bill, but to complain about having an intern having to field a call from live radio. This is a fair point. But why does our House member handle his communications with his constituents with a team of interns that can neither answer our questions nor find someone who can? How are citizens supposed to know how to communicate to our representative if we can't find out where he stands on an issue? It could be that Mr. Welch is fighting to remove this language bought and paid for by Monsanto and could use our help. It could be that it hasn't yet been brought to his attention, in which case the appropriate response would be to get lots of Vermonters to contact him about it. He might even think that its a good idea and need to be dissuaded. Citizen power is largely limited to having a voice with which to persuade your representatives to take right action. Without knowing where our representative stands, our discourse is limited and less effective. Are all queries about legislation met with such a casual non-response? Would being a campaign contributor assure a more timely response? Has government grown so large and unwieldy as to effectively shut us out of the conversation if we're not part of the system?
At press time, after a month, Welch's office has responded. He is for GMO labeling and against the Monsanto rider, but did not indicate that he is engaged in the issue. The Farm Bill is wending its way through Congress with the Monsanto rider attached like a malignant tumor. Luckily, the feckless Congress may simply pass a one year extension of last year's Farm Bill, which will give us more time to work against these new provisions. Let's use that time to let Representative Welch know that this is an important issue to us and that we'd like to see him take an active role in opposing it. In the meantime, you can find out how to help in the fight to remove the Monsanto Rider by contacting the Organic Consumers Association at organicconsumers.org.
Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane. He is also a contributor to www.thiscantbehappening.net.