Frankel: New law shields Monsanto at expense of public health

On March 26, President Barack Obama silently signed the Agricultural Appropriations Bill into law. At the time, the nation was too busy scrutinizing the Supreme Court’s deliberations on same-sex marriage to pay much attention to a tiny provision in the spending bill. Section 735 of the bill, dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act, forbids federal courts from ruling that biotechnology companies must stop selling a given product even if it is found to be hazardous. The Monsanto Protection Act is simply another measure to strengthen the already powerful and dangerous biotech lobby.

It should come as no surprise that the law protecting companies like Monsanto was written in conjunction with – you guessed it – Monsanto Company. The company aided Sen. Roy Blunt in ironing out much of the bill’s language. Monsanto spends millions of dollars each year lobbying Washington.

Monsanto has a historically poor record on public health. The company produced 99 percent of PCBs in the United States until production ceased in 1977. Used for decades as a coolant fluid, PCBs are highly toxic. One study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health found a positive association between exposure to PCBs and development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in men. PCBs have also been proven to cause cancer in animals, along with adverse effects on animals’ immune, endocrine and reproductive systems.

Nowhere is Monsanto’s recklessness more evident than in Anniston, Ala. For years, the company knowingly dumped mercury and PCBs into the small town’s water supply. Fish invariably died en masse. Despite the Monsanto plant in Anniston having been closed for decades, the town’s water, soil and air are still contaminated.

Monsanto currently produces a number of agricultural products that have been linked to health issues. In 1970, Monsanto chemist John E. Franz discovered glyphosate, the herbicide Monsanto markets as Roundup. It quickly became one of the most common herbicides in the U.S. and is one of the company’s most profitable products. The product was initially praised for its relatively low toxicity. Later studies, however, linked the herbicide with birth defects in lab animals. A separate study linked glyphosate to adverse reproductive effects in rats.

Recently, Monsanto developed genetically modified seeds that are resistant to the herbicides the company produces, which the company calls “Roundup ready.” Though the scientific consensus is that the seeds are not dangerous, the young age of these products makes it impossible to ascertain their long-term health effects. Should Monsanto’s newer products be linked to the diseases that their old ones have, under this new law the courts would be powerless on taking those products off the market.

The implications of the Monsanto Protection Act are haunting. It makes absolutely no sense to grant an organization that has been a threat to public health for decades free rein to manufacture products that endanger the well-being of animals and people. Furthermore, the bill could have dangerous implications in the judicial process. Senior reporter at the International Business Times Connor Sheets writes, “It sets a precedent that suggests that court challenges are a privilege, not a right.”

The Monsanto Protection Act will only remain in effect for six months, but its effects could last far longer. The bill chips away at the right of citizens to hold biotech companies liable for their products. Every time you remove accountability from a corporation whose sole motive is to maximize profit, trouble will follow.