BREAKING NEWS: On May 23, the Senate voted down (27-71) the Sanders amendment #965 to S.954, the Farm bill. The amendment, submitted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was an effort to support the existing right of states to enact their own laws requiring the labeling of genetically engineered food. Already this year 26 states have introduced labeling laws with the possibility of passage in a number of states. You can watch the debate on this amendment here. You can see how your senators voted here.
Editor's note: The information in the following article was up to date as of 7 a.m. EST, Thursday, May 23. Because the Senate debate on the Farm Bill is ongoing, the information below will continue to change. Updates will be posted above.
Unless you're a diehard policy wonk, it may be tough to get excited about something called a Farm Bill. But consumers have a bigger stake than what many of us may think in the policies being debated this week in Washington D.C. And Big Ag's lobbyists are out in full force to protect corporate interests, almost always at the expense of consumers.
Will the Senate repeal the infamous Monsanto Protection Act? Will your Senators support an amendment that could take away states' rights to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Or will they approve an amendment supporting GMO labeling? Will they approve policies that support organic farmers? That finally allow U.S. farmers to grow hemp?
This week the U.S. Senate began the laborious task of debating amendments and fine tuning S. 954, the 2013 Farm Bill. When finalized and voted on by Congress, the new bill will set policies on national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry policy. The last Farm Bill, passed in 2008, expired in 2012. Congress voted on Jan. 1, 2013, to extend several expired Farm Bill Programs.
Here are some of the key amendments consumers should contact their Senators about this week. Find your Senator's name and number here. Or if you already know their name, you can just call them at the Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.
States' rights - King Amendment: Passed on May 15 by the House Ag Committee, and is already in the House version of the Farm Bill (H.R. 1947). It was proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), largely in response to a California law stating that by 2015, California will allow only eggs to be sold from hens housed in cages specified by California. But policy analysts emphasize that the measure, broadly and ambiguously written, might be used to prohibit or preempt any state GMO labeling or food safety law. Tell your Congress members you don't want this amendment, or any rider or amendment that would preempt states' rights to label GMOs, included in the final version of the Farm Bill.
Repeal Monsanto Protection Act - Merkley Amendment #978: Introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), would repeal the infamous Monsanto Protection Act.
Please contact your senators today and ask them to support the Merkley Amendment.
Support GMO labeling - Boxer Amendments #1025 and #1026: Introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) would demonstrate Senate support for labeling of GMOs (#1025) and request that the FDA and USDA study the 64 countries around the world that already require labeling (#1026). Call your Senators today, ask them to support the Boxer Amendments #1025 and #1026.
Ban Frankenfish - Begich Amendment #934: Introduced by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), the amendment would ban the sale of genetically engineered salmon (likely to be approved soon by the FDA) until federal wildlife agencies are properly consulted and find that genetically engineered salmon pose no environmental risk. Call your Senators today, ask them to support the Begich Amendment #934.
Allow farmers to grow Industrial hemp - Wyden Amendment #952: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced an amendment to the farm bill Monday that would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. The "Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013" would exclude industrial hemp, which is not a drug, from classification as "marihuana," removing it from the federal laws against growing pot, and allowing for regulation by the states. Call your Senators today, ask them to support the Wyden Amendment #952.
Protect honeybees - Boxer Amendment #1027: Introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to protect honeybees and native pollinators, that have declined over 45% last winter as a result of pesticides and industrial agriculture. Call your Senators today, ask them to support the Boxer Amendment #1027.
Protect our seeds - Tester Amendment #1080: Introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont), will help keep a wide array of seeds in the public domain by ensuring that researchers can develop publicly held seeds for farmers, instead of corporate-controlled, privately held varieties. Call your Senators today, ask them to support the Tester Amendment #1080.
Katherine Paul is Director of Communications and Development for the Organic Consumers Association.