Food activists outraged at the so-called Monsanto Protection Act -- a provision that, as noted here, snuck into law late last month as a part of a broader spending bill -- have directed significant blame at Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for not drawing attention to the biotech rider.
The Monsanto Protection Act was signed into law by the president as one small section of the HR 933, approved by Congress to avoid a government shutdown. But many Congress members said they had not even seen the controversial provision (Section 735 in the bill), which protects genetically modified seeds (like those produced by biotech leviathan Monsanto) from litigation in the face of health risks. The biotech rider was introduced anonymously as the larger bill progressed, was not subject to appropriate review by the Agricultural or Judiciary Committees, and was reportedly not even seen by many voting Congress members. In response to public outcry over the provision, Mikulski has offered a tepid mea culpa -- a statement of disavowal that does nothing to undo the legislation, which, although temporary, sets dangerous precedent for shielding biotech giants from federal prosecution and intervention. The statement from the senator's office reads:
[The biotech rider] was originally part of the Agriculture Appropriations bill that the House Appropriations Committee reported in June 2012, and it became part of the joint House-Senate agreement completed in the fall of 2012 before Senator Mikulski became Appropriations Chairwoman.
As Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski's first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown. That meant she had to compromise on many of her own priorities to get a bill through the Senate that the House would pass.