Tuesday, June 4, 2013

About that Monsanto Protection Act

Over the past week or so, social media sites have seen a flurry of posts encouraging the repeal of the so-called Monsanto Protection Act. Although the posts have not yet propagated into a digital version of a wildfire, it is clear that a segment of America's grassroots is aflame with all the wind blowing in one direction.

Most of you are probably wondering: What the hell is the Monsanto Protection Act? Turns out it is not a piece of legislation in its own right. Rather, it is wording that got sneaked into Section 735 of a recent budget resolution despite having nothing to do with the federal budget. The wording became law by virtue of Congress passing the budget resolution in March.

Generally, what the MPA deals with are genetically modified foods, a.k.a. genetically modified organisms. These are fruits and vegetables that are cultivated by injecting them with specific genes from other species in order to produce certain traits. Those who agree with this approach to agriculture refer to it as innovation that benefits mankind by increasing the size and durability of harvests. Those who disagree refer to it as toying with nature and thereby exposing  people and the environment to risks we can't yet know.

Specifically, what the MPA deals with is the power the federal government has in determining which genetically modified foods go to market and how they are labeled. Supporters claim that the MPA prevents special interests from using shoddy science to deny consumers access to food that is safe, nutritious, and uniquely affordable. Its critics claim that it allows large agricultural firms to avoid adequate legal scrutiny concerning the safety of the food they produce.

The wording at issue is actually called the Farmer Assurance Provision. Opponents dubbed it the Monsanto Protection Act after learning that executives from Monsanto Company, a biotechnology firm, co-authored it with Missouri Senator Roy Blunt.

Based on my unscientific method of paying attention to a) who is posting about the MPA on social media, and b) which organizations are opining about it on their web pages, I have deduced that most of the people outraged by it are liberals. As an unapologetic member of the right wing, I am here to tell my fellow conservatives that they should consider joining the liberals on this one.

My emotions are somewhat mixed. Most of the liberals whose ire is raised by the MPA have been full-throated in condemning the manner in which it was passed, and they are one hundred percent correct in that regard, yet half of me struggles to believe that its manner of passage is really what raises their ire. I am tempted to believe they would be every bit as angry even if the MPA had been passed in the light of day. But to dwell on that would be to sidetrack myself from my belief that this bit of legislative chicanery needs to be struck down. Why should it matter if my primary reason for believing so is different than the primary reason some other people have for believing the same thing?

It is an age-old government trick to subvert the democratic process and make things legal (or illegal) by slipping irrelevant language into unrelated bills. In a hypothetical example, Congressmen A and B sponsor a bill called the Federal Dam Safety Act (FDSA) which requires all federally built dams to be inspected for weaknesses and cracking on a semi-annual basis, with a requirement that any problems found during the inspections get repaired within two months of being discovered. The bill has broad-based support in Congress and from the public, and thus there is no way it will get voted down. Then, Congressman C attaches a rider to it shortly before the vote. The rider mandates that every homeowner whose mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac fork over a $500 annual fee to the federal government, with all resulting proceeds earmarked to fund art-themed summer camps in Idaho. And thus, when the FDSA gets enacted, the dubious rider gets enacted right along with it.

This game is a perfect illustration of why the American people should not trust the American government. Conservatives are usually the ones decrying it because liberals are usually the ones playing it, but when it is played by one of our own, we have a duty to make sure he doesn't get away with it. Equal treatment is equal treatment, after all; and more often than not, it is damaging to any cause when the people who believe in it choose to be blind to someone's means simply because they agree (or even worse, assume they agree) with his ends.

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