March 13, 2013
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Senate Minority Leader The Honorable Barbara Mikulski Senate Appropriations Chairwoman The Honorable Richard Shelby Senate Appropriations Ranking Member
Dear Majority Leader Reid, Assistant Majority Leader Durbin, Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby:
The undersigned group of over one hundred food businesses and retailers, and family farm, consumer, health, environmental and civil liberties groups, unite to express strong opposition to the “biotech rider” (Sec. 735) in the proposed Senate Continuing Resolution. Last September our groups wrote to applaud your decision to exclude this dangerous policy rider from consideration in the current Continuing Resolution. This provision represents a serious and unique assault on the fundamental safeguards of our judicial system, and would negatively impact farmers, the environment and public health across America. For these reasons, we oppose its inclusion in any appropriations bill and call for it to be eliminated from the bill.
On the heels of federal court decisions that have found approvals of several genetically engineered (GE) crops to be unlawful, the agricultural biotech industry quietly slipped a policy rider into the FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would strip federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and planting of an illegal, potentially hazardous GE crop while the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assesses those potential hazards. In several recent lawsuits, federal courts have ruled for farmers, businesses and public interest plaintiffs based on the finding that USDA had violated federal law by failing to adequately consider the potential harms of GE crops it had approved.
In reversing USDA’s decisions, these federal courts have quite reasonably barred or restricted sales and planting of such unlawfully approved crops pending further review, while allowing continued cultivation of those already planted. This rider is specifically intended to prohibit courts from imposing such reasonable restrictions in the event of similar cases in the future, undermining judicial authority in the interests of maximizing biotech industry seed sales. This unreasonable and biased provision would prevent a court from putting in place court-ordered restrictions, even if the approval were fraudulent or involved bribery.
Further, this provision would compel USDA to immediately allow continued planting of a GE crop upon request, even if in the course of its assessment the Department finds that it poses previously unrecognized risks. If this occurs, USDA will be severely hampered from preventing costly transgenic contamination episodes, resulting in market rejection of U.S. agricultural products and the loss of foreign and domestic markets, and untold millions of dollars in revenue. Many agricultural product markets around the world, including some of our nation’s most prized trade partners, demand food grown without the use of GE technology. The stark reality that American farmers and our economy will face if the upcoming funding bill includes the biotech rider that U.S. seed, crops and foods contaminated with GE material cannot and will not be sold in many international markets.
Both conventional (non-biotech) and organic farmers have suffered substantial losses in the past due to contamination episodes. If this provision were to become law, USDA would be forced to immediately approve all permits for continued planting of an “unapproved” biotech crop, exposing more farmers to substantial damage risk. This would further damage the ability of American farmers to compete in foreign markets and would put our nation’s delicate agricultural markets at risk. Far from safeguarding farmers, the only parties whose interests are “assured” by this rider are those of the agricultural biotech industry.
The facts are important is weighing this issue. GE crop developers have misled Congress with this false and self-serving provision. Every court that has reversed a USDA decision to approve a GE crop has carefully weighed the interests of all affected farmers, as is already required by law. The unimpeachable fact is that no farmer has ever had his or her crops destroyed. USDA already has working mechanisms in place to allow partial approvals, and the Department has used them, making this provision completely unnecessary.
This agricultural biotech provision would set a dangerous precedent for congressional intervention in the judiciary. Our federal courts have long been the last resort for people seeking to challenge illegal actions by the government or its officials, including actions that may threaten freedom from discrimination, access to education, access to health care, property ownership and other important social benefits including clean air, clean water and the fair distribution of government resources. If this provision were to become law, it would harm not only those who would otherwise challenge illegal government actions, but also all people and communities who benefit from efforts to root out government abuse and unlawful action. The ability of U.S. courts to review, evaluate and judge an issue that impacts the nation’s public and environmental health is a strength, not a weakness of our legal system.
For the foregoing reasons, we oppose the biotech rider (Sec. 735) in the Senate Continuing Resolution and collectively call for it to be eliminated from the bill.