Food justice activists won a victory this week as the United States Senate voted not to extend the “Monsanto Protection Act.” The act is set to expire on September 30th, unless Congress extends the provision in emergency legislation that will avoid the potential government shutdown on September 30th.

The “Monsanto Protection Act” is the name given to a provision that limits the power of federal courts to ban genetically modified (GM) crops should the courts decide that the Department of Agriculture (DoA) did not properly assess the safety of GM crops before allowing them on the market. The Monsanto Protection Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to overrule any potential court judgment and allow the planting of GM crops until the DoA is able to complete a thorough analysis of GM crop safety.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley made a statement that the Monsanto provision is a “special deal” for “special interests” like Monsanto, Cargill, and other major agribusiness corporations. Merkley firmly announced that the provision would not be in the budget extension bill, which is great news considering that The Monsanto Protection Act was slipped at the last minute into the bill that saved Washington from the last potential shutdown. Agribusiness special interests know that in these hurried moments, when Washington is in a state of emergency, legislators are under pressure to pass legislation without even reading the actual bills. This strategy will not work for big agribusiness this time.

Companies like Monsanto have long sought to stack the deck in their favor through special interest legislation and in the courts. The company employs an impressive army of lawyers and lobbyists who fight court battles and influence legislators to pass laws in Monsanto’s favor. Between 2002 and 2012 Monsanto spent over $52 million to lobby legislators.

Monsanto needs this protection to survive because it has one of the most deadly and environmentally disastrous histories of any company in the world today. From the 1920s into the 1970s, Monsanto disposed of dangerous PCBs (poly-chlorinated biphenyls) in municipal water systems, dumping them in lakes, and by burning them; these practices poisoned entire cities like East St. Louis, Illinois and Anniston, Alabama. During the Vietnam War, the Monsanto-produced herbicide Agent Orange contaminated tropical eco-systems, killed Vietnamese civilians and soldiers, caused hundreds of thousands of birth defects, and injured US servicemen fighting in the countryside. Now Monsanto and other agribusiness companies are trying to influence free trade policy to stop other countries from banning GM crops.

It’s simply ludicrous that a corporation known for maiming and killing continues to wield so much power over the way that the entire world produces its food. For the better part of the last 30 years, the United States government has been the right hand of agribusiness corporations like Monsanto, actively helping them control the world’s food. Criticism and resistance to big agribusiness from Washington has been rare.

We hope that the efforts of Senator Merkley and other supporters of food justice represent the beginning of a different relationship with big agribusiness in Washington.