Monsanto Will Soon Be Allowed To Police Itself


Monsanto, enemy of organic farmers and anti-GMO advocates alike, will likely be allowed to conduct its own environmental studies as part of a two-year USDA experiment. But there is no good that can possibly come of an experiment where the company behind nearly every genetically modified crop in our daily diets is allowed to decide whether its products are causing any environmental harm. And Monsanto isn't the only biotech company that will be permitted to police itself.

As it stands, the USDA is responsible for assessing environmental impacts of new GMO crops. The agency has been lax about this, to say the least. In 2005, the USDA gave Monsanto the go-ahead to unleash its sugar beets before preparing an Environmental Impact Statement. This decision eventually triggered a judge to rule that Monsanto sugar beet seedlings should be ripped from the ground.

Because the USDA is so bad at doing its job on time, the agency decided to see if anyone else was prepared to do its safety testing work instead. And so it looks like the USDA will at least temporarily hand over environmental impact reporting responsibilities to the biotech companies behind GMO crops. The pilot program will allow these companies to conduct their own environmental assessments of crops or outsource the work to contractors. The USDA will still get the final say in determining the safety of crops.

The USDA won't actually admit that it's bad at performing its duties—instead, the agency claims that the move will make the environmental reporting process more timely, efficient, and cost-effective, according to the Federal Register (PDF). No knock on Monsanto, which is surely made up of great, honest people, but if the company has a vested interest in getting one of its crops deregulated, why wouldn't it try to fudge the numbers on an environmental review? And why wouldn't its hired contractors do the same? If this wasn't so dangerous, it would be funny.

Already, GMO crops are causing environmental problems. Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy, corn, and cotton have spawned Roundup-resistant superweeds, which force farmers to douse their crops in even more Roundup Ready pesticides (that's called synergy). And cross-pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops is making it ever more difficult for companies to stay organic.

Don't expect any immediately catastrophic changes to the food-supply chain. Instead, the USDA's experiment may slowly push through more GMO crops into fields and onto our plates. One day, we may realize that these crops have triggered irreversible damages. At least we'll know exactly who to blame.

[Photo by ektarama]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • BarbaraF

    I wonder if you've seen this article. Prince Charles is (hopefully) taking up the cause of Indian farmer suicides after GMO seeds, sold with overinflated promises and non-stated harmful consequence, ruined their fields and created insurmountable debt. Horrific. USDA, do your job! It is idiocy to leave the fox to guard the chicken coop.

  • Mat

    Self-regulation didn't work for the Oil and Gas Industry or Wall Street; why would it work here?

  • Alexander Villalba

    Monsanto = Umbrella of Resident Evil

    the people who run that company are sinister, how can it be allowed to continue working after all the damage they have done worldwide!?

    definitely reality surpasses fiction
    in this document describes some of his crimes:

  • Frank Snodgrass

    In spite of claims, genetically engineered crops do NOT have higher yields.

    Secondly, Roundup RUINS the soil (and our health).

  • Colin Clarke

    Interesting to see USDA try this. Having seen the pesticide regulatory process up close it IS incredibly inefficient (as most things in govt are). I'm not a big fan of this move, but at least USDA is TRYING to find a means to be more responsive in their approach to regulation. Curious to see how this turns out.

    What I am most dissapointed whith is Ms. Schwartz's approach to the article. What could've been an objective review of the topic turned into a bashing of biotech science. I continue to find it interesting how medical science is lauded for developing new synthetic drugs and treatments that improve or preserve life for people, yet agriculture is dragged through the mud as it tries to accomplish similar improvements with our access to food.

    I guess it's true... it's a lot easier to complain when your belly is full.

  • bobi becker

    Just wonder how much $$$ Monsanto paid and to whom so they could be their own "POLICE"? Good grief, when will they get the clue, messing with mother nature, DNA and etc will cost you dearly. Oh, but look at all the money we will make in the mean time. AND, their public relations show, "America's Heartland" is nothing but a BIG public relations scam, trying to make folks think they are just the most terrific Chemical Corporation on this earth! You got it, CHEMICAL CORPORATION. Lest I remind everyone, THE HUMAN BODY WAS NOT DESIGNED TO INGEST CHEMICALS. Choose to ignore mother nature and she will reply on a grand scale. Just look at what she has done already and we are only on the tip of the iceberg. MY,MY, MY, when are humans gonna get the CLUE?

  • Chris Birke


    I believe I understand your sentiment! Crop yields go up due to this technology, and the human consequences of such technology are outpaced by the sheer increase in human food intake.

    However, upon closer examination, that might be an over simplification of the issue. Monsanto is not directly interested in feeding people. I also believe you cannot provide evidence that its choices do not have consequences which might impact you. Should you find yourself immediately diseased by a Monsanto product, your opinion of increasing oversight upon them by whatever means would reasonably change. Is that a possibility you consider? If not, you trust is entirely in Monsanto, and you wish them empowered. I hope they can manage to balance their goals against their new greater responsibility in governance of our health via their products.

    This company has not historically demonstrated its commitment to ethics over profit. They engineered plant seeds that are sterile, so farmers must by new seeds every year, rather than gather last years (as humanity has since our inception.) This has had the most negative consequences in the third world. Ultimately it shifts energy (via the fees and suffering placed upon the third world) to first world product development (and, quite indirectly, you.)

    Clearly there are some consequences they see as acceptable in light of their advances (and the sustained profit conceivably necessary for this.) I wonder if I will I always fall into the protected consumer category? When we have 9 billion people on the planet, we will need technology to translate sunlight into an energy source to sustain us - and perhaps Monsanto is our only hope. Or perhaps not.

    Maybe I just think about these issues a little too much, and look up histories and facts that I shouldn't.

  • Esther Cervantes

    The project's announcement in the Federal Register is here, along with contact information for the person taking proposals:

    If you want the USDA to hear how you feel about it, contact the person in charge of accepting applications to this new program: David Reinhold at

  • Angela Reininger

    hello Dan. It would be helpful to look at all sides of an argument instead of just reaching for the low hanging fruits of your own political ideologies. Having lived in Europe for many years I couldn't understand their vehement antagonism against Monsanto and genetically modified seeds. I thought it was anti American sentiments. When I returned to the US 5 years ago I went to a wellness center to handle a physical problem traditional medicine didn't seem to help with. THere I was exposed to data about the harmful effects on the soil and surrounding indigenous plants coming from GMO. Then i continued my search and discovered the predatory methods of Monsanto. I now I am educated on the subject and can make a intelligent choice.

  • Dan Sanford

    Why would you be against better seeds and crops? Yes the weeds wind up resistant to current herbiciedes, just like the overuse of anti-biotics and tougher bacteria, but it increases yeild. So that means more corn gets grown. And since its all processed, eighter by men or by whatever critter eats it before you consume it, where are you worried about GMOs harming humans? Really, this is good news as it gets the feds out of things that are none of their damn bussines.

  • angryoaf

    I suggest that you start by watching these 2 documentaries.

    They cover a lot of the controversial topics regarding Monsanto and their practices. (Along with many other companies and issues).

    I'm not saying you take everything that is said in the films at face value... but I do believe they will give you a base set of questions to ask and ultimately research for yourself.

    Educate yourself about the topic and you'll clearly see why people take issue with these "better crops" from Monsanto and this particular article.

  • Angela Reininger

    Well, who will we blame? Certainly not Monsanto. The only one to blame will be ourselves for our complacency. For our collective surrender to elected officials and the Industry that regulates our food chain. Politicians and Industry hold illicit relationships and we are the poor bastards that need to live in the world they construct for us.

  • Val King

    If you are interested I've started a petition to tell our government enough. We know that corporations like these self-regulating in the past has created regrettable outcomes, yet our government continues to choose to hold hands with corporate giants instead of looking out for the best interest of the people. If you are interested in signing the petition, please click the link below.