* Provision alters court power during biotech lawsuits
* Farmers say they get the right to harvest a crop
* Biotech foes say backroom deal benefits seed companies
* Powerful Senate chair says she opposes the rider
WASHINGTON, April 3 A number of U.S. farm groups
want to extend a law that allows farmers to grow a genetically
modified crop while regulatory approval of the variety is still
being challenged in court.
No one in Congress claims ownership of Section 735 of a
recent spending bill, but the 22-line provision has blown up a
storm of opposition to what is being dubbed by critics as the
"Monsanto Protection Act."
The legislation is lauded by some farm groups, who have
vowed to try to extend the life of the statute beyond its Sept.
30 expiration at the end of the fiscal year.
Food safety advocacy groups frequently ask for a temporary
injunction against sale of seeds when they challenge U.S.
approval of genetically modified crops. So Section 735 would
benefit biotech seed companies such as Monsanto Co and
Dow Chemical Co.
"We'll certainly try to get that language put into the farm
bill," Mississippi farmer Danny Murphy, president of the
American Soybean Association, told Reuters.
He said lawsuits have delayed farmer access to profitable
biotech varieties for years at a time. "We think it's important
farmers have the certainty once they plant a crop they would be
able to harvest it."
Lawmakers aim to pass a new farm policy law by this fall.
Only one variety, a genetically modified alfalfa developed
by Monsanto, is under court review at present.
Biotech foe Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the
Center for Food Safety, called Section 735 a backroom deal that
muzzles the power of federal judges to prevent the cultivation
of inadequately reviewed biotech crops.
Opponents range from organic food advocates and small-farm
activists to environmentalists, consumer groups and the American
Civil Liberties Union.
The language was tucked into the 240-page government funding
bill in the Senate with no indication of its author. Even the
groups who support the provision say they do not know who got it
into the sure-to-pass bill. No one claimed credit during debate.
The bill was passed on March 22 and signed by President
Barack Obama on March 28 - even after thousands signed petition
opposing the so-called biotech rider.
Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, is often a focal
point for opposition by those who oppose genetically engineered
crops or want more labeling of genetically modified foods. The
company on Wednesday announced a 22-percent rise in quarterly
A pro-labeling/anti-Monsanto demonstration is planned for
Monday at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offices in
College Park, Maryland.
Senior members of the Appropriations Committees in the House
and Senate pointed at each other when asked who was behind
Section 735. Two senators said the House panel was responsible
because it backed the idea last year, albeit in a bill that
failed to advance.
A spokesman for Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia,
tabbed as the 2012 sponsor, said Kingston had no role this year.
Speculation has since centered on Senator Roy Blunt of
Missouri, Monsanto's home state. His aides did not respond to
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski "didn't
put the language in the bill and doesn't support it either,"
said spokeswoman Rachel MacKnight. She said Section 735 was an
unavoidable carry-over from House-Senate negotiations last fall.
Mikulski has supported labeling of genetically modified
foods and will fight for "valuable priorities, including food
safety," said MacKnight.