Too little, too late: Misplaced outrage over Monsanto Protection Act?

Isn’t the internet something? For a few days social media was painted red with a seemingly ubiquitous avatar users would display in their support of repealing the restrictions against same-sex married couples in the United States. But the day following the peak of this phenomenon, another story, presented with a very particular angle, has been garnering a lot of attention: That President Obama has signed the so-called Monsanto Protection Act into law while everyone was busy talking about gay marriage. We’ve been tricked, hoodwinked, the narrative goes – here’s why that’s untrue, and why you’re fighting the wrong battle.

Photo by Jan Tik.

Large-scale farming is large-scale. Photo by Jan Tik.

Contrary to popular belief, what Obama signed into law was nothing new. Section 735 of H.R. 933 (the rider to the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act which has been dubbed, inaccurately, the Monsanto Protection Act) states that if companies (like Monsanto, yes) were to be involved in a lawsuit over a particular crop or practice, they would potentially be exempt from having to cease use of the crop or practice in question. What this means in practical terms is that competitors cannot sue Monsanto frivolously and force them to face punitive action before the lawsuit is concluded. So instead of this happening, which would invariably lead to Monsanto tying the USDA up with millions of dollars in legal appeals, a seemingly logical solution to cut the red tape is introduced. It does not grant “immunity” because such claims are simply inaccurate – if a lawsuit concludes and the ruling is that the defendant, be it Monsanto or whomever, must cease their activities, then they must comply.

And you know what’s even less remarkable about Sec. 735? It’s nothing new. It’s been law as part of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill since 2010 when the Supreme Court found that lower courts cannot order a cessation of crop growth while a lawsuit is still in progress.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not at all a fan of Monsanto, but it seems to me that to get all huffy over the renewal of a law based on a Supreme Court ruling from three years ago that actually seems to make a quite reasonable provision – that can and will protect thousands of businesses and – that’s right – even small-time farmers from legal bullying tactics is foolhardy.

So you’ll forgive me if, in light of these facts, I am profoundly puzzled by the outrage that seems to be directed toward Obama and Monsanto in this instance. Of all the things the federal government and the likes of Monsanto have suspiciously entangled themselves in (like the “revolving door” of Monsanto executives who come and go from working there and working in the FDA – a severe conflict of interest, no doubt) and the largely unsuccessful push for GMO food labeling, it just seems to all be an instance of too little, too late.

Monsanto is doing much worse stuff. Pick your battles wisely. (Photo by Tim VanReenan.)

Monsanto is doing much worse stuff. Pick your battles wisely. (Photo by Tim VanReenan.)

It’s true, Monsanto, for a variety of reason, does deserve to be scrutinized for its activities which seem to range between questionable and down-right alarming. I’m not going to spend too much time on this point, as many, many others have tackled this issue and that of the subsidizing of industrial farming practices and GMO foods (I strongly recommend the film documentaries King Corn, Food, Inc, and The Future of Food if you haven’t already.)

However, the way this issue is discussed, like so many others in the United States, is reactionary in nature. The day after the bill is signed into renewal? Now we’re indignant. I don’t remember any where near as much social media-sourced ire over Obama appointing Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s vice president, to the new position of food czar at the FDA in 2009.

While I try very hard to assume ignorance rather than ill intentions are behind instances like this, I can’t help but wonder if this is just an opportunity to embarrass the anti-Monsanto/GMO crowd, pegging them exactly as I have – foolishly reactionary, picking battles that are already over with inaccurate or outdated information. No, gay marriage wasn’t the distraction, as many outraged individuals and meme-style images might claim. This is. Instead of focusing on why your state hasn’t passed GMO labeling legislation (or even brought the issue to ballot at all), you’re busy preoccupying yourself and this current, however brief, general sense of animosity toward Monsanto and their cronies – wasting your energy and a swelling of support that will dissipate almost as quickly as it has formed (as it does with most issues in the US).

Don’t like Monsanto and their practices? Then stop electing them. That’s right – while you might not’ve been able to vote directly for the food czar in 2009, the majority of Americans certainly voted for the person who nominated him and perpetuate this cycle, President Obama. Your congressmen probably approved or otherwise did not attempt to curtail this bill which so many people are upset about.

It's entirely your fault if you elect people who do things you don't like. Especially when you re-elect them. (Photo by eyspahn)

It’s entirely your fault if you elect people who do things you don’t like. Especially when you re-elect them. (Photo by eyspahn)

If you want change then you’re going to have to stop being okay with voting for the same two teams which both have no desire to work in your best interest – they only continue doing so because you enable them. Our politicians are only as honest as we keep them.

If you get a bushel of apples and find worms in some of the fruit, do you throw out the basket and swear off apples? Do you curse the apples for being so easily eaten by the worms? No, you remove the worm-infested pieces of fruit and you remain vigilant next harvest – because we’ve still got to eat.