Open Letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski on the “Monsanto Protection” Rider

judge's deskDear Senator Mikulski (D-MD) and Other Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee,

This letter is in regard to your committee’s recent decision to insert a rider into Section 735 of the interim funding bill, which effectively places purveyors of biotech products such as genetically modified organisms beyond the reach of the courts.

Since I do not believe that you and your esteemed colleagues would intentionally put the citizens of your state and of the nation at large in harm’s way, I can only assume that you are uninformed as to the actual risks associated with these products. Their manufacturers, who, according to Maplight, generously provided $12,000 to your campaign, and a total of $372,000 to members of your committee, would prefer you not be bothered with these risks. Given that Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing combined only make up 0.2% of Maryland’s GDP (and one would have to assume, given your large coastline, that most of that is from fishing), it does make one wonder why these agricultural chemical corporations were so interested in supporting your campaign, considering how little farming is done in your state.

Be that as it may, that horse has fled the barn, for now. But it’s not too late for you to learn more about a subject that will continue to be controversial for some time to come, and to perhaps, take action to put it back in the barn where it belongs.

Biotech producers claim that genetically modified (GM) foods and animal feeds are safe. This claim is based on an premise called the doctrine of substantial equivalence (SE). This doctrine, according to the FDA, states that as long as GM foods “have the same characteristics as a predicate … product,” the GM foods can be considered safe. All GM food that is on the market today has been approved based on this premise.

Consider the following analogy. Let’s say I was to develop a new automobile in my garage and offer it for sale to be operated on our nation’s highways. Under the SE doctrine, this car would be considered safe, provided it has four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel and a handful of other characteristics commonly associated with cars. Since other cars are safe, this new car must be safe, too, regardless of how the wheels are attached or how the brakes operate, or whether it might be prone to unintentional sudden stops. To check for all those minute details would be considered too burdensome on regulators, so in order to streamline economic growth, with the hope of providing new jobs and supporting small business, it is simply approved based on its similarity to its predecessors.

I’m sure you can see the absurdity in this logic. We can all be grateful that the Secretary of Transportation does not use such a lacksadaisical approach in certifying new vehicles for use on our roads. Yet you, or someone on your committee, who refuses to identify his or her self, would have the Secretary of Agriculture do exactly that with our food supply. Some might argue that this is potentially far more dangerous, given possible long term effects, than a vehicle problem that can be quickly detected and remedied.

Scientists at Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology (PSRAST), Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and other groups, have compiled lists of instances where both animals and people have become sick as the result of exposure to GM foods and the increased levels of herbicides they often contain. Top researchers have confirmed that the results of genetic modification are unpredictable.

I won’t go into the myriad of examples of suspicious linkages and smoking guns that point to the presence of GM foods as a common factor. Like the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industries before them, this industry is leveraging doubt to forestall any action by the government to act on concerns. True, human biology and the impact of food on health are complex subjects with many interactions and much potential for confusion exists. Yet, the amount of rigorous testing and peer-reviewed studies of this technology is alarming low.

There are more than enough reasonable doubts in the scientific community and among the public at large, to justify more stringent consumer protections being put into place. Instead, what we are seeing from our elected representatives, those we have put into office to protect us, is exactly the opposite. Unlike tobacco and fossil fuels, which were both mainstream industries when concerns were first raised about their safety, these crops are only just being submitted for approval. And instead of being subjected to the kind of long–term rigorous trials that simple prudence calls for, they are getting a free pass for one reason and one reason only: because their makers have friends in Washington. Common sense dictates that we should be proceeding with caution here, as other countries have done, following the precautionary principle which states:

When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.

Right now, the public is bearing the burden and it is your job to see to it that this stops.

I understand that you have now come out and distanced yourself from this action and apologized for the error. You claim that this didn’t happen under your watch, but occurred before you became chairwoman. That is not enough to satisfy the concerns that have been voiced by thousands of protestors. As Chairwoman, it is your responsibility to know what is in the bill, whether you put it in there or not. Since we now know that you agree that this was a mistake, what are you going to do to fix it?

[Image credit:Photomatt28: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

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RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, ofVapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact: