The “Farm Bill” sounds so innocent, conjuring up images of healthy cows, Midwestern men in overalls, and bright red barns. But don’t be lulled to sleep by this non-threatening moniker. Hidden inside the “Farm Bill,” more accurately referred to as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240) and its cousin, the FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, are provisions that could drastically alter the quality and safety of the food we eat in America.

Among the hundreds of sections and amendments that make up these bills, the biotech industry (read: Monsanto) recently used its financial and political influence to insert a provision that would give companies free rein to plant, harvest and sell GMO crops before they are deemed safe by the USDA.

Ironically dubbed the “Farmers Assurance Provision,” Section 733 of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill has nothing to do with protecting farmers (at least not the ones in the overalls you were imagining earlier). Instead, this amendment will ”make it much easier for [Monsanto] to push their GMO crops without any government oversight, while farmers who use traditional farming methods will be faced with regulations Monsanto will be immune from.”

And that’s not all. According to the Gerson Institute, ”if any GMO crops are found harmful by a court of law, the USDA is forced to allow continued planting of the proven dangerous crops. The provision goes even further and bans the court from suggesting that the USDA take action against any agricultural policies that may be harmful to the environment or farmers.”

In the Farm Bill, the Monsanto Rider, as it’s been dubbed by critics, would outlaw any review of genetically engineered crops’ impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), or any other environmental law, or by any other agency other than USDA. Okay, well, at least the USDA would be checking up on them, right? Wrong. Another provision bars the USDA’s analysis of potential harmful impacts from informing any approval decision.

Although biotech companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical would have preferred for these little nuggets to remain buried among pages of legislation, food safety advocates all over the country have been hard at work, informing the public about what’s at stake if these provisions pass.

“They are trying to change the rules,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety, which has lawsuits pending against government regulators for failing to follow the law in approving certain biotech crops. “It is to the detriment of good governance, farmers and to the environment.”

Reuters reports that the U.S. House of Representatives could vote on Section 733 as early as next week. Take action: Tell Congress not to let Big Agriculture write it’s own rules.

Main photo credit: SierraTierra/Flickr