4 Ways Monsanto Might Launch 'Sneak Attack' to Get DARK Act Passed in Senate
"Something is going to happen. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu."
So we were told recently by a Senate staffer, during one of the many meetings we’ve held with Senators to urge them to reject H.R. 1599 or what we refer to as the DARK—Deny Americans the Right to Know—Act.
Could that comment mean Monsanto is cooking up another “sneak attack,” similar to the one it conducted in 2013, that led to passage of the Monsanto Protection Act? Only this time, the sneak attack would be aimed at stomping out the GMO labeling movement?
Protesters walking in a rally with signs asking to "label" GMO's on food, against GMO giant Monsanto on May 25, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. Photo credit: Shutterstock
It wouldn’t surprise us. A quick look at the lay of the land reveals that Monsanto and Big Food have several opportunities to rush the DARK Act into law, without a hearing or a full vote in the Senate.
How likely is that to happen? We don’t know for certain. But it’s worth remembering that Monsanto and Big Food are nothing if not opportunists.
A Bill to End GMO Labeling for Good
In case you’re still in the dark about the DARK Act, here’s the Readers Digest backgrounder. (There’s plenty more here, including fact sheets, leaflets, talking points and toolkits).
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) introduced H.R. 1599 earlier this year. He then managed to rush it through the House, where it passed by a vote of 275 to 150 on July 23.
The bill is a sweeping attack on states’ rights to self-govern on the issue of GMO labeling and on consumers’ right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. If the Dark Act becomes law, there will never be GMO labels, safety testing of GMOs, protections for farmers from GMO contamination or regulations of pesticide promoting GMO crops to protect human health, the environment or endangered pollinators.
Under what most of us would consider a fair and democratic process, the bill would move next to the Senate, where there would be the opportunity for debate, amendments and a stand-alone vote.
But with the July 1, 2016, enactment of Vermont’s GMO labeling law, Act 120, looming, Monsanto is probably thinking it doesn’t have time to slog through a Senate hearing and stand-alone vote, especially as the Senate has yet to introduce its own version of the bill. And perhaps even more daunting than the July 1 deadline, is the prospect that the DARK Act might get watered down or worse yet killed in the Senate—a risk Monsanto would likely prefer to avoid.
Four Potential Sneak Attack Scenarios
So, what are the potential “sneak attack” scenarios that would allow Monsanto to push through the DARK Act this year, without going through the normal Senate process?
There are several. They all take advantage of the fact that Congress is seriously behind on its work and that the threat of a government shutdown looms.
When Congress leaves its must-pass legislation to the last minute, bills don’t go through the normal legislative process where votes and amendments take place in committee hearings and floor debates. Instead, bills are negotiated behind closed doors, then, to increase the likelihood they’ll pass, brought to votes with only limited debate and amendments.
It turns out, members of Congress involved in writing a bill while the bill is in subcommittee, are allowed to add any provision they want, anonymously. No fingerprints. The laws of the most powerful nation are written with the same level of accountability as internet comments.
This year, Congress could procrastinate until December and then cram all of its must-pass legislation into one “grand bargain.” This would be the perfect opportunity for Monsanto to launch a “You Stuck What Where?” sneak attack. We might not even know until it’s too late, if unscrupulous House and Senate leaders were to slip the DARK Act into a “grand bargain” that included appropriations, reauthorizations, extensions of expiring legislation and an increase in the debt ceiling.
But, even if these bills are dealt with individually, there’s still ample opportunity for sneak attacks.
How could Monsanto sneak the DARK Act into law? Here are what we believe are the scenarios industry lobbyists are probably considering.
1. They’ll sneak it into a must-pass spending bill.
The government needs to be funded by Sept. 30. But Congress is way behind in its work on its spending bills. Not a single one of a dozen annual appropriations bills has passed both chambers yet this year. That increases the likelihood that lawmakers will try to pass another Continuing Resolution to keep spending at basically the same level as last year and keep the government open.
This would give Monsanto a chance to launch the same “sneak attack” strategy it used in 2013, when the Monsanto Protection Act (Monsanto called it the Farmers Assurance Provision) was slipped into a six-month Continuing Resolution cobbled together at the 11th hour to avert a government shut-down.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) played a big role in the 2013 Monsanto Protection Act “sneak attack.” He could do it again with the DARK Act, especially if he convinces Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to help him.
The only question for Monsanto is if the Continuing Resolution will last long enough to block the July 1, 2016 implementation date of Vermont’s new GMO labeling law. Continuing Resolutions are normally short-term, 3 months or as long as 6 months. This wouldn’t help Monsanto.
But, Congress may choose to meet its end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline (Sept. 30) by passing a full-year continuing resolution. If this happens, any riders that get attached to the resolution would have a twelve-month lifespan. That could mean a DARK Act that would delay the implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law.
2. They’ll sneak it into the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization bill.
On Sept. 17, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) brought the Senate version of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization bill to his committee for amendments, debate and vote. The Child Nutrition Act expires on Sept. 30 and should be reauthorized before then for another five years. But, as with the spending bills, if Congress doesn’t finish its reauthorization work it can opt for a short-term extension.
If Sen. Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, wanted to do a favor for his Big Ag donors who have given him nearly $800,000 so far this election cycle, he could let Sen. Blunt slip the DARK Act into the Child Nutrition Act. There would be little anyone could do about that, unless they were willing to risk the future of the school lunch program past Sept. 30, when the legislation expires.
If Monsanto can’t get Sen. Roberts to act alone, the other Senators on the Agriculture Committee could be enlisted in a team effort. With a two-person majority, the committee’s 11 Republicans could vote to attach the DARK Act to the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization without any Democrat’s support.
3. They’ll sneak it into another bill as an amendment
If Monsanto doesn’t manage to stick the DARK Act into an appropriations or reauthorization bill anonymously, it can try for an amendment to one of these bills, once either of the bills hits the Senate floor.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t been given $1.1 million from agribusiness so far this election cycle for nothing. Monsanto and its allies know that the DARK Act could live or die depending on how important it is to Sen. McConnell. As the Senate Majority Leader, he controls which bills go to the floor and which amendments may be offered.
If the DARK Act doesn’t get attached to another piece of legislation by a committee chair or by a vote in committee, it could be brought to the floor as stand-alone legislation. This rarely happens in the Senate, because it takes 60 votes (a bipartisan effort) to cut off debate and avoid a filibuster.
But amendments to legislation are different. An amendment requires only 51 votes to pass—as long as the amendment is germane. (Non-germane amendments require 60 votes.) Of course, what’s “germane” is largely up to the Senate Majority Leader.
The ability to wield these parliamentary tactics gives Sen. McConnell enormous power and will make him the top target of Monsanto’s lobbying machine.
4. They’ll sneak it into the budget reconciliation bill.
The President's Fiscal Year 2016 budget passed by Congress earlier this year allows for a “budget reconciliation” bill to be considered and passed by majority vote—only 51 votes in the Senate. The bill can also be amended with only 51 votes.
For Monsanto’s sneak attack strategy, the catch is that, under the rules of this reconciliation, the underlying provisions of a reconciliation bill must have a “budget effect.” It’s very difficult to imagine Monsanto being able to make the case that passing the DARK Act could save the government money. However, the rule can be broken with 60 Senators voting to override an objection.
The “budget reconciliation” bill is optional, so it’s likely that Congress won’t act on it until 2016.
When it comes to the DARK Act, will consumers be at the table? Or, as our Senate staffer friend suggested, on the menu? We don’t know yet. But we do know which Senators might be able to give Monsanto a hand with a “sneak attack.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
How does your burrito impact the environment? If you ordered it from Chipotle, there is now a way to find out.
- Food's Environmental Impact Varies Greatly Between Producers ... ›
- Panera Bread Becomes First Chain to Use Climate-Friendly Label ... ›
Are you noticing your shirts becoming too tight fitting to wear? Have you been regularly visiting a gym, yet it seems like your effort is not enough? It's okay to get disappointed, but not to lose hope.
By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
- 8 World Cities That Could Be Underwater as Oceans Rise - EcoWatch ›
- Endangered Migratory Birds on Collision Course with New Airport ... ›
- How Is Climate Change Affecting the Philippines? - EcoWatch ›
A pair of studies released Monday confirmed not only the presence of water and ice on the moon, but that it is more abundant than scientists previously thought. Those twin discoveries boost the prospect of a sustainable lunar base that could harvest the moon's resources to help sustain itself, according to the BBC.
- Scientists Find Rust on the Moon 'Puzzling' - EcoWatch ›
- Historic NASA/SpaceX Mission Could Pave the Way for Space ... ›
- NASA Study of Increasingly Dire Global Water Shortages Finds ›
- Groundbreaking NASA Announcement: Evidence of Liquid Water on ... ›