While many Americans were firing up barbecues and breaking out the sparklers to celebrate Independence Day, biotech industry executives were more likely chilling champagne to celebrate another kind of independence: immunity from federal law.
A so-called “Monsanto rider,” quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, would require – not just allow, but require – the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed. All the farmer or the biotech producer has to do is ask, and the questionable crops could be released into the environment where they could potentially contaminate conventional or organic crops and, ultimately, the nation’s food supply.
Unless the Senate or a citizen’s army of farmers and consumers can stop them, the House of Representatives is likely to ram this dangerous rider through any day now.
Not only are GM foods not required to be labeled, they are also subsidized by taxpayers. Already, Bt crops are being plagued by insects that have developed a resistance to Bt toxin. Bt runoff is contaminating waters and causing mutations in wildlife. Roundup Ready crops have given rise to “superweeds” that can withstand applications of glyphosate. Gene-flow between GM and traditional crops is basically unavoidable, which may lead to an ecologically-devastating lack of diversity. Now our government proposes that GM crops be protected even though their environmental impact has not been fully assessed. If crops fail, taxpayers get to pick up the dime due to subsidies provided by the government.
Genetic engineering is a fascinating field of study-one that has intrigued me since I was a child. My senior thesis was about the moral and ethical dilemmas presented by genetic engineering. This was around the time that Dolly the sheep clone was born. We were quite concerned that scientists would be cloning humans and engineering supermen, though now we see the technology being used for more commercial purposes rather than for nefarious world domination plots. I posited that our ability to deal with all of the legal, moral, ethical, and ecological concerns of creating new organisms would be outstripped by the pace of new technology, which proved true. What I didn’t foresee, perhaps because I was young and idealistic, was the possibility of our government actively disregarding public safety and hard science over the profits of corporations and their own campaign coffers.
I believe that GM technology has great potential for good. However, not fully studying every aspect of a GM organism’s impact on the environment before using it on a large scale is bad science. Not allowing consumers to know what they are buying and putting into their bodies is bad public policy. Obstructing federal courts with this legislation is just criminal. It is our duty as citizens to inform ourselves and let our representatives know where we stand on this important issue.