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Senate funding bill strips controversial provision on genetically modified crops

The short-term spending plan moving through the Senate would eliminate legislative language that allows farmers to continue growing genetically modified crops even if a court has blocked their use.

The Farmer Assurance Provision — dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act by its critics — was inserted into an earlier government funding bill that expires Monday and would have remained in place under the stop-gap funding bill approved by the House last week.

The 16-page version of the funding bill drafted by Senate Democrats makes two highly publicized changes to the House version: It strips the House language that would defund the Affordable Care Act and shortens the length of the spending measure, to Nov. 15 from Dec. 15.

But the Senate bill also explicitly cuts the crops provision, a move that food safety advocates hailed as an important victory.

“Members of Congress and congressional staffers have become very aware of this issue,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now, which generated thousands of calls to Capitol Hill urging lawmakers to remove the provision. Murphy praised Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) for leading the effort in the Senate.

House Republican leaders said Thursday that they were unlikely to approve the Senate’s version of the spending bill, heightening concerns about a government shutdown. But House aides said they did not expect the agricultural provision to be reinserted.

In unusually direct language, the provision in the House bill instructs the agriculture secretary to allow farmers or producers to continue to use genetically modified seeds and harvest crops grown with them even if a federal judge finds that they pose a potential risk, overturns their approval, and orders more studies of the plants.

Several major grower groups and others, including Monsanto, a leading producer of genetically modified seeds, supported the provision, which they said was intended to protect farmers from the disruption caused by frivolous lawsuits.

But consumer groups, organic food advocates and others complained that the measure provided a sweetheart deal for corporate interests and a dangerous way to avoid court review of government agencies.

In a statement Thursday, Monsanto called the expiration of the provision “no surprise.”

“This discussion shows the need to address the larger problem — abuse of the legal process by activists and returning the regulatory system to one based on real science, operating in a timely and data-driven manner to deliver choices to farmers and the economy they support,” the company said.

As a possible sign of lessening support for the provision, the 2014 agriculture spending bills approved by the House and Senate appropriations committees — but not the full House or Senate — did not contain the measure.

“We take things year by year,” said Jennifer Hing, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee. “This year, a decision was made not to continue it.”

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