Two amendments related to genetically modified crops and specifically to the Monsanto Company made news in Washington as lawmakers continue to work on a new five-year farm bill.
One of the measures, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), sought to ensure that individual states would have the ability to enforce their own laws related to special labels for foods containing genetically modified products also known as GMOs.
Thursday, May 23, Senators defeated that amendment by a vote of 27-71.
Sanders introduced the measure to assure that federal law, specifically the farm bill, doesn't get used to prevent states from labeling foods as containing GMOs. Californians fought a referendum battle last year to require the labeling of foods containing these genetically engineered (GE) crops.
That referendum failed to get enough votes to pass.
In introducing his amendment, Sanders said he wanted federal legislation to protect states that wanted to move forward with a GMO label.
"When the state of Vermont and other states go forward in passing legislation to label genetically modified food, they have been threatened by Monsanto and other large biotech companies with costly lawsuits," Sanders said on the Senate floor.
His amendment was designed to say that a state "may require that any food, beverage, or other edible product offered for sale in that State has a label on the container or package indicating that it contains a genetically engineered (GE) ingredient."
In another legislative battle, some food activists organized support for an amendment to repeal what has been called "the Monsanto Protection Act."
The so-called "farmer assurance provision" was anonymously slipped into H.R. 933 - the spending bill that prevented a government shutdown in March when it was signed into law.
Quickly dubbed by opponents and food activists as the "Monsanto Protection Act," the provision limits the ability of judges to stop a biotech company or farmer from growing genetically engineered crops even if the court finds that there are potential health risks.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced his amendment to repeal that clause from the farm bill during debate last week, saying the provision "nullifies the actions of a court that is enforcing the law to protect farmers, the environment and public health."
In a press release Markley said the provision "is an outrageous example of a special interest loophole."
The whole issue of cross-pollination of non-GMO crops with those that have been genetically engineered is an important one to some farmers. Organic farmers could lose their certification, since GMOs are not used in organic production. Even some conventional farmers who export their crops said those exports can be jeopardized if the crops are pollinated with GMOs.
Supporters of Markley's amendment organized a "March against Monsanto" Saturday, May 25, but by that time his proposal had been shot down in the Senate.
On Thursday (May 23) Republican senators blocked Markley's attempt to get a vote on the amendment. The GOP Senators who opposed it prevented Markley from getting the unanimous consent it needed to be considered.
During this senatorial dust-up Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) claimed responsibility for putting the "farmer assurance provision" in the spending bill earlier this year.
Dave Murphy, executive director of "Food Democracy Now", said the passage of the Monsanto Protection Act was "the last straw for millions of Americans and citizens worldwide who are outraged over the continued corruption of our democratic institutions, the contamination of our environment and Monsanto's relentless march to take over the food supply."
Murphy said that while that provision of H.R. 933 is scheduled to sunset at the end of September, it has already spawned similar efforts to protect the planting of GMO crops in several states, including Oregon, Missouri and North Carolina.
"If a provision similar to the Monsanto Protection Act is slipped into the current farm bill it could be law for a minimum of five years," he added.