Litigation is the Root of the Problem
Apr 18, 2013
By Bill Horan: Rockwell City, Iowa
There has been some serious misinformation about the Farmers Assurance Provision running through the anti-biotech community that I would like to address personally. Maybe you’ve heard some voices rail against the so-called "Monsanto Protection Act" – a nickname invented to infuriate other anti-technology activists and hopefully raise support for their campaign to ban or at least slow down the planting of GM crops.
With groups like the Center for Food Safety, Mother Jones Magazine, Food Democracy Now and Food & Water Watch – each with an anti-technology in agriculture agenda – noted as their source of information, it’s time for farmers who use the technology to speak up and talk about what the provision actually does.
Included in a spending bill recently signed by President Obama, The Farmer Assurance Provision has a simple purpose: It assures farmers like me that frivolous junk-science lawsuits won’t stop them from planting safe and healthy crops that have been USDA approved for planting after passing years of rigorous testing. This modest measure merely codifies case law already developed by the Supreme Court as well as the current practices of the Department of Agriculture.
Shortly after approval of the Farmer Assurance Provision, an anti-biotech website actually described it as an act of "fascism."
How do you have a reasonable discussion with an activist who equates a legal measure that received bipartisan support in Congress and backing from the White House with the horrors of Nazi Germany?
I’ve grown biotech crops on my farm for twenty years. I choose these crops because they let me grow more food on less land—the very definition of sustainable agriculture. Along the way, these crops help me make more efficient use of resources such as water, fertilizer, and fuel while protecting the soil.
In other words, these crops make sense for both economic and environmental reasons. They’re an important tool for me as a farmer and they’re good for all of us as consumers who want sustainable food at a reasonable price.
Litigation is the root of the problem this provision addresses. It is not a food safety or environment protection issue.
Around the globe, scientists and regulators have studied biotech crops and deemed them safe, from the American Medical Association to the World Health Organization.
Yet biotechnology faces ongoing opposition from an ideological movement that will stop at nothing to smear farming practices that work effectively and safely to feed my family and yours. Some have a misguided, anti-scientific agenda. Others are just special-interest groups: Certain elements of the organic-food industry worry that biotechnology puts their expensive food products at a competitive disadvantage.
Whatever their motives, biotechnology’s foes have failed to block these needed and proven effective farming tools. So they’ve resorted to legal harassment, filing nuisance lawsuits against crops that farmers already have received authorization to plant. That’s what happened to genetically modified sugar beets a few years ago.
The beets employed a weed-defeating technology already at work in corn and soybeans. Farmers were eager to take advantage of this tool, so they welcomed this new crop.
The lawsuit came five years later. It didn’t charge that biotech beets were unsafe for human consumption or that they harmed the environment. Instead, it raised a technical legal concern in the Department of Agriculture’s environmental assessment and demanded an even more comprehensive impact statement.
It was the sort of allegation that only a paper-pushing bureaucrat could love.
A federal judge responded by ordering a do-over. And then, despite no evidence of any potential harm, he took an extra, radical step, demanding the destruction of 95 percent of America’s sugar beet plants.
Imagine the plight of sugar-beet farmers. The government had approved a certain crop for widespread commercial planting. After several years of success, a single judge told them to wipe out a whole season of planting due to a technical violation that had no bearing on the health of people or the environment.
Fortunately, the judge’s order was overturned on appeal, ending a chaotic period of confusion and struggle. In time, the Department of Agriculture completed its comprehensive impact statement and determined that sugar beets were safe to plant - again. Separately, the Supreme Court ruled that courts can’t yank crop approvals on technicalities—they should let farmers proceed, at least temporarily, during moments of additional regulatory review.
The new provision takes the Supreme Court’s decision and gives it the force of federal law. This reasonable step provides farmers with a little more confidence that ridiculous lawsuits won’t uproot settled practices in an instant.
That’s why it’s called the Farmer Assurance Provision—it protects us from the caprices of anti-biotech activists, and provides us with the assurance we need to go about our business of growing safe, nutritious, and affordable food.
Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and other grains with his brother on a family farm based in North Central Iowa. Bill volunteers as a board member and serves as Chairman for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.