From Green Right Now Reports

Chances are you have heard of the Farm Bill that Congress must enact to continue to fund the vast quilt of farm subsidies and programs this coming year, not to mention the attached school nutrition package.

Like most Americans not involved in agriculture, you likely view this massive piece of legislation as falling into the realm of ho-hum government business that’s a) complex beyond belief and b) going to happen with or without your input.

And Monsanto — the world’s biggest pesticide maker and owner of seeds (and by extension food) — is counting on that.

The global chemical company has slipped a self-serving provision into the House version of the Farm Bill that’s come to be known as the “Monsanto rider” or “Monsanto riders”.

The main Monsanto provision would allow the company to press ahead with planting genetically modified crops even if a federal court has issued an injunction or a federal authority has ordered an environmental impact statement as a prerequisite of planting.

These special clauses also would make it easier for Monsanto to win approval of new, genetically modified crop versions.

“The riders would restrict the scope of the USDA to review the safety of biotech crops and ‘force the backdoor approval’ of them” by setting shortened USDA approval deadlines, Reuters reported today. If government officials miss the too-tight deadlines, approval would be granted by default.

This preemptive strike against America’s democratic processes has drawn criticism. Many organic growers and farm supporters are incensed. So’s Robert Shepherd, who started a petition to protest Monsanto’s maneuvering. His petition on to “Stop the Monsanto Riders” has 206,992 signatures at this writing, just shy of the 225,000 he’d like to have before turning the petition into the Obama Administration and both houses of Congress.

The petition explains itself this way: “So-called ‘Monsanto riders,’ quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, would require – not just allow, but require – the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed. All the farmer or the biotech producer has to do is ask.”

Robert Shepherd, who worked most of his career in the film and music industries, says he started the petition because Monsanto should not be above oversight. “I simply thought it important,” he said in an email. “No one was more surprised at the amount of people who’ve responded. It seems people are aware of the gravity of this issue.”

Groups trying to stop Monsanto’s riders include The Center for Food Safety. which derided the biotech industry for slipping in the misleading measure. The CFS set up a form for consumers who want to send a letter to their Congressional representatives.

“Though wrapped in a ‘farmer-friendly’ package, this ‘farmer assurance provision’ is simply a biotech industry ploy to continue to plant GE crops even when a court of law has found they were approved illegally,” the CFS wrote.

“The provision undermines USDA’s oversight of GE crops, interferes with the U.S. judicial review process, and could be unconstitutional. It is also completely unnecessary and serves only to offer ‘assurance’ to biotech companies like Monsanto, not farmers.”

The Institute for Responsible Technology, which advocates labels for GMO foods, reports that 94 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the corn grown in the US are genetically modified. Cotton (90%), canola (90%) and sugar beets (95%) also have been genetically engineered. In the vast majority of cases, these crops have been altered to resist pesticides sold by Monsanto or the handful of other large agricultural corporations.