Lawmakers seize on farm bill for fresh assault on genetically engineered food

Lawmakers long intent on increasing the regulation of genetically engineered food are turning to the farm bill as a potential vehicle for the effort. 

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Among hundreds of proposed amendments to the $955 billion legislation filed so far are several designed to crack down on genetic modification practices developed by the agriculture and biotechnology industries. 

An amendment submitted by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to repeal the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” is likely to get the most attention. 

The amendment takes aim at a provision attached to the continuing resolution bill approved in March. Formally known as the Farmers Assurance Provision, the measure allows biotechnology companies to sell genetically modified seeds even if a court has blocked them.

For many years, farmers have used genetically modified seeds that have been developed by Monsanto and other companies to resist herbicides. However, their use has been the subject of numerous lawsuits filed by critics who warn of public health and environmental hazards.


The Center for Food Safety and other proponents of the Merkley amendment have launched an aggressive campaign to remove the provision from law. 

“The American public is really infuriated that Congress passed that,” said Colin O’Neil, the center’s director of government affairs.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the author of pending legislation that would require all genetic food to be labeled as such, filed two amendments intended to increase scrutiny of the industry’s practices. One would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the 64 countries around the world that already require genetically engineered food labeling.

The second is meant to express the sense of the Senate that labeling should be mandatory.

Another amendment, submitted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), would make clear that states have the right to enact their own labeling laws. At least 26 states have taken up consideration of such a statute.

Genetically engineered salmon that can grow twice as fast as their unaltered cousins have raised concerns among Democrats and Republicans in Alaska’s congressional delegation.

The FDA is currently weighing a proposal from the biotechnology firm AquaBounty Technologies to approve the fast-growing salmon for human consumption.

In the meantime, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) has introduced an amendment to ban the sale of genetically engineered salmon until Federal wildlife agencies are properly consulted.