Bill Maher is a gifted comedian who likes to take extreme (mostly but not all left-wing) positions for comedic purposes and to encourage discussion among his weekly panelists. And he has a good staff of gifted writers to come up with lots of clever material. (This week’s panelists actually skewed right with the Time’s conservative financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, MSNBC’s conservative firebrand S.E.Cupp, filmmaker Michael Moore, and comic actor Zach Galifinakis.)
But in last Friday’s show which you can watch here on HBOGO (at about 35 minutes in) he refers to the “Monsanto can do whatever the heck it wants act.” He claims protection for Monsanto was “slid in” to the agriculture bill that says
If their product causes harm, they can’t be sued.
Seriously? Do you really think this is true. It is actually one of the “left wing lies” kind of equivalent to the “Obama death panels” hyperbole of the right wing. It simply isn’t true, although the credulous press has been passing this story around since March.
Here’s what section 735 of HR 933 actually says:
In the event that a determination of non-regulated status [is] made … the Secretary of Agriculture shall, … upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner:
And most importantly
Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status…
In other words, if there is some suspicion that a regulated plant might be harmful (presumably a genetically modified plant), the farmer can continue to grow it until the Secretary of Agriculture completes the analysis of this claim. Honestly, that sounds pretty reasonable.
And it turns out that the USDA already has this power anyway. You can find a pretty good summary of this bill reported by NPR and another longer summary on Snopes. We also wrote about this last month in a column for Huliq.
But most important, this really just prevents nuisance lawsuits from disrupting agriculture when there is no evidence that any genetically modified plant (GM) has ever cause any harm. There are no peer-reviewed papers that report any such harm. And there are hundreds of papers showing that no harm has ever been caused.
While the lunatic fringe has been claiming that this clause was “slipped in at the last moment,” it was in the draft law for over a year.
All of this came about when a judge ruled in 2010 that GM sugar beets had been approved “without adequate assessment of their environmental impact.” This would have put farmers in quite a quandary since most US farmers plant Roundup resistant sugar beets and a sufficient quantity of non-GM beet seed was not available. Hence this law simply said that the USDA has to evaluate the science before any such rulings can be implemented.
Oh, and since planting Roundup resistant beets means less tilling, this means that the crop has a considerably lower carbon footprint.
So look, Adam Felber and other Maher writers: you can at least check Snopes or do a simple internet search on these things. That’s all it took to debunk this crazy talk. They could also actually read the bill.