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Bill on Genetically Modified Food Sneaks Through in CR

Regardless, a coalition of 38 legal, environmental, and agriculture groups, including the ACLU, Earthjustice, the National Organic Coalition, and the Sierra Club, sent a letter to Rogers maintaining the Farmer Assurance Provision represents “a serious assault on the fundamental safeguards of our judicial system and would negatively impact farmers, the environment and public health across America.”

Under the language, the groups said, the courts couldn’t halt the sale and planting of genetically modified seeds “even if in the course of its assessment the Department (of Agriculture) finds that it poses previously unrecognized risks. Far from safeguarding farmers, the only parties whose interests are ‘assured’ by this rider are those of GE crop developers.”

Congress has provided the USDA with the authority to regulate genetically engineered crops under the Plant Protection Act. Yet, according to the coalition, the department has “repeatedly ignored the legitimate concerns of farmers, the business community and civil society regarding their environmental and interrelated economic impacts.”

Those concerns include the transgenic contamination of conventional and organic crops and fostering the spread of herbicide-resistant “superweeds.” Under Section 735, the courts are banned from stepping in if any of those concerns prove valid. In the past, federal courts have ruled for plaintiffs who claimed the USDA violated federal law by failing to adequately consider the potential harms of GE crops it had approved.

There remains no explicit explanation regarding how the rider wound up in the continuing resolution. It was championed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and ranking member on the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.

Monsanto is headquartered in St. Louis in Blunt’s home state of Missouri. Over the years he has attracted support from the corporate giant, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which found that the company donated $64,250 to his campaign committees from 2008 to 2012.

But much of the blame is being directed toward Mikulski who ran herd over the legislation. In a statement issued Thursday, Mikulski’s office rejected claims that she inserted the language into the bill, asserting that she “doesn’t support it either.”

"Senator Mikulski has a strong food safety record,” the statement said, noting that she pushed through the measure in an effort to avoid a governmental 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,” it said.

Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.) filed an amendment to remove the language during floor debate but it was never called up for consideration. The Democrat-controlled upper chamber passed the spending plan in a 73-26 vote.