Is this the "Monsanto Protection Act 2.0"?
An amendment inserted into the 2013 Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives' Agriculture Committee Wednesday would revoke the ability of individual states' lawmakers to pass GMO-labeling laws, food advocates warn.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, is the newest salvo in an ongoing battle between food advocates and companies like Monsanto that create and sell genetically modified and genetically engineered seeds, which grow into GMO crops and find their way into an estimated 70 percent of processed foods in American grocery stores.
The figurative jury is still out on whether or not genetically modified and genetically engineered foods have negative health impacts on humans, but supporters of GMO-labeling point to studies showing a range of potential risks, from kidney and liver damage to reproductive system issues.
But even if GMO foods are proven to be entirely healthy for human consumption, food advocates contend that the public has a right to know what is on their plates, and that in order for that to be possible, foods containing crops that were genetically engineered need to be labeled, just as the Food and Drug Administration requires that labels tell consumers how much caffeine is contained in a given food or beverage.
But King's amendment, dubbed the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA), may put an end to efforts by state lawmakers in states like Vermont and Connecticut to enact state-level GMO-labeling laws. Here's how King described the amendment in a Wednesday statement:
"The first King amendment prohibits states from enacting laws that place conditions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders, but are produced in other states," he wrote.
On its face, the language may sound fairly innocuous, and aimed squarely at protecting states' rights. But critics are raising a red flag, suggesting that it is a veiled attempt to block state-level GMO labeling.
"The biotech industry knows that it’s only a matter of time before Washington State, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and other states pass GMO labeling laws," the group wrote. "Rather than fight this battle in every state, Monsanto is trying to manipulate Congress to pass a Farm Bill that will wipe out citizens’ rights to state laws intended to protect their health and safety.”
And this isn't the first time this battle has been waged. When King first introduced the amendment last year in an attempt to attach it to the failed 2012 Farm Bill, Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, wrote that it would likely be interpreted as a way to preempt states' efforts to pass laws to require GMO labeling on consumer products.
"This impenetrable language simply means that states would be prevented from regulating just about any agricultural product in commerce," White wrote, adding that, "This sweeping provision would severely undermine all states’ authority to set standards for environmental protection, food safety or animal welfare. It would apply to genetically engineered food labeling, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) regulation, antibiotics use in meat and other local and state food and farm regulations."
And now food advocacy groups are motivating to oppose the amendment's inclusion in the 2013 Farm Bill. More than 14,000 people have signed a MoveOn.org petition protesting the so-called King Amendment, and social media campaigns are gearing up much as they did when the original "Monsanto Protection Act" -- which provided legal protections for companies engaged in the production of genetically engineered seeds -- came into the public consciousness back in March.
Get ready for a major controversy over "Monsanto Protection Act 2.0," as concerned citizens across the U.S. become aware of the King Amendment.