As we recently reported, a last-minute rider was slipped into HR 933, the 240-page spending bill signed by President Barack Obama on March 26. The bill was designed as an emergency measure to prevent a government shutdown, but as it turned out, it also made a pretty good Trojan horse for the biotech industry.
The rider, which had Monsanto’s fingerprints all over it, was added by a company lackey, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and in essence says that if a court questions the approval process of a new genetically engineered crop, or rules that such a GMO crop needs further safety testing, the crop in question can still be sold and grown until the USDA, FDA or any other regulator has finished the research needed to make a final assessment.
Its corporate creators innocuously titled the rider the Farmer Assurance Provision, but opponents of the provision more accurately refer to it as the Monsanto Protection Act.
If you know how Monsanto’s business model works, then you understand the calamity that is unfolding before our eyes.
Most of us are aware that the seed industry has become dangerously consolidated and that Monsanto’s monopoly control over our food supply is particularly disturbing. The company’s patented seed traits can be found in about 90 percent or more of most major crops such as soy, corn and sugar beets. Monsanto is also the largest seller of fruit and vegetable seeds, and is the main controller of conventional seeds as well. If it’s grown, Monsanto is pretty much the market.
But what most people don’t know about Monsanto’s business model is that “speed” — the amount of time between product launch and full market domination — is a central part of the company’s game plan. And that is why this single paragraph in the bill is devastating.
For example, it was only in 2008 that Monsanto introduced its GMO sugar beet seed to the world. With Monsanto’s massive ownership and/or influence over the seed market, it would be an understatement to say that the company’s GMO sugar beet seed was a real hit.
But, as a court would later rule, the USDA had licensed Monsanto’s sugar beet seed without doing the legally required study to determine the safety and possible negative impacts of this new GMO product. So the court ordered Monsanto’s GMO sugar beet license suspended until proper research was completed. But there was a speed problem.
In the less than 24 months since the time of its launch, Monsanto’s GMO sugar beet seed had already accounted for 95 percent of the entire sugar beet market. And because of Monsanto’s control over the overall seed industry, there were no major sources remaining of non-GMO seed. As a result, the USDA said that the United States would experience a major sugar shortage if the court’s ruling were followed, so Monsanto was allowed to ignore the judge’s ruling and keep right on selling its product even though the study had never been done. By the time the final research came in two years later — research that did, in fact, find several significant problems with GMO sugar beets — Monsanto was still allowed to continue selling its GMO product because of the lack of any viable alternative. There simply was no substantial remaining supply of non-GMO seeds, and the perceived need to avoid a temporary sugar crisis was considered the dominant factor in continuing down the GMO-sugar-beet path.
Clearly Monsanto learned from this. It has now, thanks to the Trojan horse spending bill, influenced Congress and the president to pass a law that will allow it to do to all future crops — and presumably also upcoming GMO fish and other animals — what it did to the sugar beet market, namely, completely monopolize them before studies regarding potential health, environmental or market pitfalls have even been conducted.
Based on the consistently long research timetable, the Monsanto Protection Act gives the company at least a couple of years of uninterrupted sales of any new patented trait, even if the courts step in and demand additional research. As we learned with sugar beets, two years is enough time for the Monsanto monopoly to so totally dominate a market that, regardless of the research findings, the company will have already made it nearly impossible to ever reverse course.
Speed is the card that Monsanto has up its sleeve. And if regulators don’t figure that out soon, we will be past Monsanto’s point of no return.