OPINION: Don’t copyright our crops

Kerian McDonald, Staff Reporter

While the news media has focused its attention on the recent events in Boston and North Korea, Congress has been busy passing new legislation with some content.
The Farmer Assurance Provision, passed on April 4 as a rider to a budget bill, severely limits the ability of federal courts to restrict the planting and sale of genetically modified or engineered seeds, despite any possible consumer health concerns. The rider clearly benefits the biotech industry, likely spearheaded by the Monsanto Company, the nation’s leading producer of genetically modified crop seeds.
The Monsanto Company has a long legal track record of class-action lawsuits over health issues caused by their chemical products, as well as Monsanto’s defense of their many patents. Since the mid-90s, Monsanto has filed lawsuits against more than 100 individual farmers for alleged patent infringement. Although most of these suits settled out of court, Monsanto won the few that didn’t.
Monsanto’s rabid defense of its patents worries many people, myself included, and has even earned the corporation the nickname “biopirates.” This new bill will help Monsanto dominate the genetically modified food industry by making the federal government nearly powerless to stop the sale of Monsanto’s products for any reason; it may even help the corporation create a monopoly on food. With no threat of government investigation and the new legal protection given to their products, Monsanto can now continue to aggressively pursue farmers and rivals for patent infringements. Due to the natural spread of crop seeds, Monsanto will eventually be able to claim rights to thousands of fields and will put thousands of farmers in court. Farmers may be pressured to switch to exclusively using Monsanto seeds in order to avoid litigation, substantially increasing Monsanto’s profits and allowing it to dominate the food markets.
In addition to the damage Monsanto’s chemicals can do to humans, genetically modified seeds represent a huge threat to the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, genetically modified crops pose distinct threats to the environment, many of which may be unforeseen. Engineered crops can actually become weeds, which can damage surrounding crops, and modified genes may cross-pollinate other crops, turning them into weeds also. Crops engineered to produce certain viruses could spread the viruses or making them more potent, and plants engineered to produce toxins, such as pesticides, could harm crucial bee populations or wildlife that may eat the crops. Finally, these genetically modified crops could have a negative impact on crop diversity. Although there are multiple environmental issues stemming from the continued growth of these genetically modified crops, no major human health issues have been identified that are directly related to the consumption of genetically modified foodstuffs.
Congress must understand that their continued submission to big business will not be tolerated. This practice of industrial, pre-Progressive era profiting should have died with the monopolies of the early 20th century. Not only is this legislation in direct conflict with antitrust laws, it also allows the controversial practice of producing genetically modified crops to go on virtually unmonitored. Until the questions surrounding the threats that genetically modified foods pose to human health and the environment are answered, the federal government, namely the FDA and the Department of Agriculture, should keep a close eye on the products of companies like Monsanto, not cater to their every whim.