Monsanto seems to think the “Monsanto Protection Act” it lobbied for hardly matters

monsanto corn seeds
monsanto corn seeds
Image: AP Photo
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For Monsanto, the “Monsanto Protection Act” seems to be no big deal, at least to judge by what the big agrichemical company is telling its shareholders.

The measure in question—which has become a rallying focus in some circles and got US TV commentator Jon Stewart going—is actually part of the six-month spending bill that President Barack Obama signed into law last week, averting a government shutdown.

Critics say the measure was slipped in secretly and improperly insulates Monsanto against litigation over the safety of its bioengineered seeds. Monsanto praised the provision to Bloomberg News, calling it balanced. Supporters say it protects farmers (along with companies like Monsanto) against the risk that a court might someday force them to uproot crops already planted if a future legal battle goes against Monsanto.

Either way, Monsanto is treating the apparent victory as a non-event as far as its shareholders are concerned: The company makes no mention of the legislation in the quarterly report it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last Friday just before 5 p.m. (when the agency largely closes up shop for the day).

The company doesn’t appear to have mentioned the provision previously, either, though it includes plenty of boilerplate about the general risks of litigation and potentially damaging legislation. One example from the annual report it filed in October:

“public concern may lead to increased regulation or legislation or litigation against government regulators concerning prior regulatory approvals, which could affect our sales and results of operations by affecting planting approvals, and may adversely affect sales of our products to farmers, due to their concerns about available markets for the sale of crops or other products derived from biotechnology.”

The company has booked a $266 million liability to cover potential litigation as of Feb. 28, down slightly from late August. But that covers a wide variety of legal claims, including environmental and product liability lawsuits and a previously disclosed SEC investigation into Monsanto’s financial reporting.

Quarterly reports can dance around issues that companies must address head-on in their annual reports. But Monsanto’s silence suggests that the company doesn’t consider the legislation to be significant enough to warrant disclosure.

Whatever the company says to shareholders, it may have been telling lawmakers something else. Lobbying records show that Monsanto spent some cash lobbying on the measure, or at least on related issues. Among reports detailing the company’s $6 million in lobbying last year are several indicating that the company lobbied not only over the generic “Regulation of agricultural biotechnology products,” but also on the fiscal 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Act, which included a provision similar to the one recently enacted. More recent spending details aren’t yet available.