USDA sides with corporate profits over environmental and public safety

Seed money

You may have heard me once or twice (possibly) mention that just maybe the FDA kowtows just a tad to Big Pharma.

But now the guys at the FDA look like complete amateurs compared to the pros at the USDA.

USDA officials recently decided to do something so completely and brazenly pro-giant-corporation and anti-organic-farmer, that it’s almost like they’re taunting us.

Little monsters

If you know anything about the USDA, you know that anytime they bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of a large corporation, it will almost always involve the biotech giant Monsanto — the corporate powerhouse that is to agriculture what The Real Housewives of New Jersey are to decorum and good taste.

If you’re unfamiliar with how Monsanto does business, let me give you an example that illustrates what passes for integrity in their dirty little billionaires club.

Monsanto owns patents on several types of GM seeds known as Roundup Ready. These seeds grow crops (corn, sugar beets, alfalfa, etc.) that holdup to constant drenching with the weed killer Roundup, which happens to be made by — let’s see if you can guess. Ding, ding, ding…you guessed right — it’s Monsanto.

But if Monsanto’s specially modified seeds should drift into a neighboring field, patent law allows the company to sue the owner of that field. And that’s exactly what Monsanto has done on several occasions.

So if you’ve got an organic farm and their GM seeds cross-pollinate and contaminate YOUR crops, Monsanto can sue you (as if you somehow stole the contamination from them).

What words come to mind here? Predatory weasels? Malignant bottom-feeders? Merciless cut-throats? All of the above?

And the USDA? They’re like Monsanto’s little doofus sidekick, with just enough power to be dangerous.

Handing over the keys

To really get a handle on this new USDA/Monsanto idiot outrage, we need to jump back for a moment to 2005. That was the year the USDA approved Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM sugar beet seeds without an environmental impact study.

Sure! Free pass! Go right ahead.

In 2009, a federal judge realized the problems with the approval process and ruled that it was illegal. No kidding — this only took FOUR YEARS! Then last year, the same judge upheld his ruling and found the USDA to be in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Okay, then! Finally, it was time to subject those GM seeds to a rigorous safety study!

So the USDA got tough, and the study got underway. But then, like easily distracted children, the agency got tired of playing that game.

In February of this year, USDA officials announced that farmers could go ahead and plant the Monsanto GM sugar beet seeds before the impact study was completed. The reasoning: The agency was concerned that the ban would prompt a rise in sweetener prices.

Unbelievable! And yet, all too believable. Only in the U.S. regulatory system would market prices be considered more important than environmental and consumer safety.

But wait — THAT’S not the extent of the outrage…

Just a few weeks ago, the USDA finally came up with a plan that at least made it SEEM like they were giving in to the demands of the federal judge.

They announced a two-year “pilot project” for environmental impact studies…with just one little wrinkle…

USDA officials seem to think it will be a really efficient idea to allow what they call “industry” (in other words, “Monsanto”) to conduct THEIR OWN environmental impact studies to assess the safety of THEIR OWN genetically modified crop seeds.

It’s like the agency is giving Monsanto the keys to USDA headquarters and saying, “Why don’t you guys go ahead and regulate yourselves? And, as always, let us know if we can be of any help whatsoever!”

Meanwhile, for a glimpse at a genuine environmental disaster, just take a look at this to get an idea of how truly destructive the indiscriminate use of Roundup weed killer can be.

Think we’ll see THAT in the results of Monsanto’s impact study? Here’s my guess: “NO WAY!”

“USDA moves to let Monsanto perform its own environmental impact studies on GMOs” Tom Philpott, Grist, 4/19/11,
“USDA Lets GMO Companies (e.g. Monsanto) Perform Own Environmental Impact Studies” Zachary Shahan, Eat Drink Better, 4/26/11,
“Solicitation of Letters of Interest To Participate in National Environmental Policy Act Pilot Project” USDA, Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 67, 4/7/11,

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