A House of Representatives committee voted to let farmers grow genetically modified crops developed by Monsanto Co. (MON:US) and its competitors during legal appeals of the approval process.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture would be required to permit modified crops to be planted and sold into the food supply after the agency’s approvals have been invalidated by a court, under a provision in the fiscal 2013 agriculture spending bill approved by the House Appropriations committee today.
The one-paragraph provision in the the 90-page bill would circumvent legal obstacles that have slowed commercialization of engineered crops, sometimes for years, benefiting Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company. Planting would be permitted until USDA completes any analysis required by a judge.
“A stream of lawsuits” have slowed approvals and created uncertainties for companies developing the modified plants, James C. Greenwood, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include Monsanto and Dupont Co., said in a June 13 letter to Congress. “The regulatory certainty provided by this legislative language would address an immediate threat to the regulatory process.”
The bill is similar to the accommodation the USDA made last year in allowing farmers to plant Roundup Ready sugar beets while the agency completed a court-mandated environmental impact statement. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco ruled in 2009 that the USDA erred in approving the crop without undertaking the additional scrutiny.
The American Soybean Association, one of nine U.S. agriculture groups supporting the House provision, said the legislation would give farmers assurance they can plant and harvest modified crops during legal challenges.
The Center for Food Safety, which has sued over USDA approvals of biotech crops, called the bill’s language a “Monsanto profit assurance provision” that interferes with judicial oversight of agency decisions and has the potential to disrupt the global grain trade.
The bill would “empower a single corporation and a few of its industry friends to move beyond the control of the U.S. courts, USDA and public review to make their own rules and profit from slippery back door politics,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the center, said today in a statement.
The center joined today with dozens of other watchdog groups and organic associations in opposing the provision in a letter to Congress.
Monsanto supports the provision, along with the American Farm Bureau Federation, Sara Miller, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis-based company, said in an e-mail today.
The USDA’s approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa was overturned in 2007 by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco, who banned further plantings pending the completion of a more thorough environmental impact statement. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the planting ban in June 2010, and the USDA re- approved the crop in January 2011 after completing the court- ordered study.
The appropriations bill now goes to the full House for consideration.
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