Full list: Agriculture in the News

Times Argus: Sorrell confident on GMO lawsuit

BY NEAL P. GOSWAMI
1/29/15
Full Article 

MONTPELIER — Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said Wednesday that he expects a judge to rule on dueling motions in the GMO labeling case within the next three months, which will help lay out a path for the rest of the case.

A host of food industry groups sued the state last year over its GMO labeling law, set to take effect July 1, 2016. Sorrell briefed the Senate Agriculture Committee on the status of the case Wednesday.

The plaintiffs have asked the judge for a summary judgment, claiming the state is restricting their free speech rights by forcing them to label products that contain genetically modified organisms. They also claim the state cannot prevent them from calling a product natural if it contains GMOs.

The state has filed a motion for dismissal of the lawsuit. Oral arguments have already been heard, and Sorrell said the state “attacked each count of the plaintiffs’ complaint.”

In some cases, restricting the right to speech can be unconstitutional, according to Sorrell.

“In First Amendment free speech arena, there’s the freedom to speak or the freedom to remain silent. So, restricting speech can be a violation of free speech rights,” he said.

Under the GMO labeling law, the state is compelling food manufacturers to say when products have GMO ingredients. “They’re objecting, saying, ‘You are forcing us to speak on labels and we don’t want to,’” Sorrell said.

In this case, Sorrell said, courts have found such compelled speech to be constitutional in similar cases.

“On the compelled speech issue we suggest that there are legitimate governmental concerns about environmental issues and public health issues as it relates to genetically engineered products, and legitimate governmental interest to accommodate religious considerations for a segment of the population,” he said.

The state’s motion to dismiss cited a case from an appeals court in Washington, D.C., one step below the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the appeals court ruled that meat must be labeled with the country of origin. The court applied a lenient standard for the government to overcome, according to Sorrell.

“We should win on the compelled speech piece,” he said.

And, unlike with products that contain alcohol or tobacco and require health warnings, the law requires facts to be disclosed, much as on nutrition labels.

“Unlike those kinds of warnings, what our statute requires are simply factual assertions without sort of the taint or flavor, if you will, of saying, ‘Caution, these are hazardous to your health,’” Sorrell said. “These are akin to the … kinds of disclosures that you typically see on products for calories, fat content, salt and sugar and the like. The standard to which we should be held shouldn’t be a higher standard because it is just a factual assertion as opposed to a warning.”

Sorrell said he is also confident in the state’s argument for prohibiting the use of the term “natural” for GMO products.

“ T h e r e i s n o F i r s t Amendment right to make either false or misleading statements,” he said.

The state’s case points to a posting on the website of Monsanto, a biotechnology company that is taking part in the suit against the state, that describes GMOs as “plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”

“We say, ‘Listen, there’s no way you can say that this is natural,’” Sorrell said.

The suit also claims an undue burden on interstate commerce. Sorrell told the committee that the law provided more than two years’ notice to food manufacturers of the pending labeling requirement.

“The state was very accommodating there,” he said.

GMO labeling is already required in more than 60 countries. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed labeling requirements, though those have yet to take effect.

“This is not Vermont as some island in the world that’s requiring labeling,” Sorrell said.

U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss is expected to rule on the initial motions within the next several months, according to Sorrell. That will inform both sides how the rest of the case will proceed, he said.

“I think we’re hoping to be on a track where whatever evidentiary proceeding we’re going to need to do will be done sometime by late fall. Hopefully, a decision at the trial court (will happen), if not within this calendar year, then very early into the next calendar year,” he said.


IVN: 47 U.S. Representatives Co-Sponsor Bipartisan Industrial Hemp Farming Act

By Shawn M. Griffiths
1/22/15
Full Article

Vote Hemp, a major grassroots hemp advocacy group, on Thursday announced the introduction of complementary bills in the U.S. House and Senate, S. 134 and H.R. 525, titled the “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015,” with support on both sides of the political aisle. The Act would remove federal restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp, the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis.

“With bi-partisan support in the Senate and House, we are eager to see 2015 be the year Congress finally passes comprehensive legislation to legalize industrial hemp farming,” said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. “Historic progress has been made on the issue this past year, as farmers in Vermont, Colorado and Kentucky planted hemp in 2014 thanks to Sec. 7606 of the Farm Bill, which allowed states that have legalized the crop to grow research and pilot hemp crops.”

The Senate bill was introduced on January 8, 2015, by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Senate Majority LeaderMitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The House bill was introduced on Wednesday, January 21, by U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.)

“I’ve heard from countless Kentuckians about the success of our initial 2014 industrial hemp pilot programs and university studies in the Commonwealth,” said McConnell. “I am especially proud that Representative Massie and I were able to work together in making those projects possible on the federal level via the 2014 Farm Bill. I support this legislation and look forward to seeing industrial hemp prosper in the Commonwealth.”

The 2014 Farm Bill permitted these pilot programs in states that have already passed laws allowing the cultivation of industrial hemp. Currently, this applies to 21 states, including Kentucky, that have defined hemp as distinct from drug varieties of Cannabis like marijuana.

“My vision for the farmers and manufacturers of Kentucky is to see us start growing hemp, creating jobs and leading the nation in this industry again. Allowing farmers throughout our nation to cultivate industrial hemp and benefit from its many uses will boost our economy and bring much-needed jobs to the agriculture industry,” Paul said.

Other states that can currently take advantage of the pilot program and could benefit from the passage of this bill include California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

However, only three of these states, Colorado, Kentucky, and Vermont, planted hemp research crops in 2014.


Burlington Free Press: Vermont calls more GMO hearings

Associated Pres
January 27, 2015
Full Article

The Vermont Attorney General’s office is calling a second public hearing on the state’s rules to implement the ban on genetically modified organisms.

In addition to the second hearing scheduled for Feb. 4 at the Vermont Statehouse, the state has extended by two weeks the deadline for submitting written comments on the proposed rules.

The new deadline for written comments is Feb. 12.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell says officials are worried interested parties wouldn’t be able to get their comments in before the original deadline.

Last year the Vermont Legislature passed the nation’s first law to require the labeling of food made with GMOs.


VPR: Cookie Maker Says GMO Labeling Law Will Help More Than Hurt


Jan 20, 2015
Full Article & Audio

Last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a law requiring most food produced with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled by 2016. There are ongoing legal fights surrounding that law, but some small Vermont producers are already working to figure out how to comply.

Vermont Cookie Love in North Ferrisburgh, led by owner Paul Seyler, welcomes the new law and is already working towards sourcing all ingredients that do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Seyler says that from the beginning, Vermont Cookie Love wanted to create a product that was higher quality than anything available, so local ingredients have always been important to them. “When the non-GMO project came along, we really tried to be a part of that as soon as we could, just because it was in line with what we were already trying to do. So, it wasn’t as big of a jump for us as it was for others.”

Seyler says that being a smaller company is a great advantage for changing practices and ingredients. For example, Cookie Love recently switched a small batch of their cookie dough to organic flour. Although this could cost them as much as double the price of non-organic flour, Seyler says the cost increase to the customer will be miniscule, if any. “As we’ve evolved as a company, we’ve been able to save money in some places in order to better our product. So we might just find a way to do it without raising our price. That’s our hope,” he says.

Cookies, by default, have a lot of ingredients. So what were the hardest for Cookie Love to source non-GMO? Baking soda and salt were a challenge, Seyler says. His company also had to go on a search for a specific type of cranberries that are sweetened with cane sugar, instead of beet sugar. “Unfortunately, most of the cranberries were being exported to a European market that has much more strict laws about non-GMO,” Selyer says. He hopes that the new law in Vermont will help to keep some of the non-GMO ingredients closer to home.

There are a large number of small producers in the area like Vermont Cookie Love that will be affected by the new labeling law. Seyler says that many of these companies already have a commitment to high quality food. He explains, “The brand of Vermont is so strong, that I think most will understand what’s happening. I don’t know whether or not they will agree with it, but they’ll respect what this law is trying to do. It’s really trying to allow people to know what’s in the food they’re buying and make a more educated choice.”

As for Vermont Cookie Love, Seyler thinks the new law could even give their business a boost. “I don’t think this labeling law is going to hurt us as much as it is going to help us, because it’s going to show to the public our commitment in a way they wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” he says.


VPR: To Contain Champlain’s Pollution, Shumlin Targets Manure Spreading Practices


Jan 9, 2015
Full Article & Audio

Gov. Peter Shumlin says his new Lake Champlain pollution plan contains a “carrot and stick” approach to control water pollution from dairy farms.

The carrot is money. The governor says he’ll provide funds to help farmers do a better job handling manure.

But if they continue to pollute, he wants to kick them out of a program that reduces their property taxes. That’s the stick.

Implementing a comprehensive plan to deal with the toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain was a key part of Shumlin’s inaugural address on Thursday afternoon.

Shumlin proposed an additional $20 million in state and federal funds to encourage farmers to make major changes in their manure spreading practices. The governor thinks the incentive plan will be successful because he says most farmers want to do the right thing.

“It’s changing tilling practices, it’s moving to low till practices, not spreading manure in all of the ways that we’re doing it and making some changes there, and the second is fencing, it’s fencing livestock out of the water and the rest,” said Shumlin. “What my plan will do is raise the money to partner with them to give them the resources they need to do the right thing.”

But if the farmers don’t respond to the administration’s plan to reduce pollution the governor says they shouldn’t be allowed to participate in the state’s Current Use Program – that’s a program that taxes farm land based on its agricultural value and not it’s development value.

Now most farmers are in the Current Use program they pay 200, 300 percent less for property taxes than they would if they weren’t,” said the governor.Their neighbors are subsidizing that program, or helping to pay for it, why should we give someone a property tax reduction when they’re willfully polluting the lake?”

Shumlin says his plan is very different from the approach taken by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. He says he’s trying to convince the EPA that its proposal for towns to spend hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading wastewater treatment plants near the lake, is not a cost effective thing to do.

Shumlin’s plan also includes a tax on agricultural fertilizers and a new impact fee on commercial and industrial parcels that are located within the lake’s watershed area.


Burlington Free Press: Shumlin’s enviro agenda praised as lake gets $16M

April Burbank
January 14, 2015
Full Article

Pollution in Lake Champlain is an emergency on par with the burning Ohio river that prompted the federal Clean Water Act, a Vermont environmental leader said Wednesday as he praised the governor’s energy and clean-water agenda.

Christopher Kilian of the Conservation Law Foundation cited summer algae blooms in the Missisquoi and St. Albans bays. Kilian addressed a Statehouse news conference, standing beside other activists to endorse the governor’s focus on environmental issues.

Shumlin dedicated his Jan. 8 inaugural address to energy and water. He announced a new program designed to encourage renewable-energy programs and proposed a fund for cleaning up Lake Champlain and other waterways, paid for by fees on fertilizer and commercial and industrial properties. Shumlin also proposed stricter financial ramifications for farmers who violate anti-pollution standards.

It’s about time, the environmental groups said Wednesday.

“Vermont’s ability to feed its citizens is dependent on clean water and clean energy,” said Andrea Stander, executive director of the agricultural policy organization Rural Vermont.

“The planet that we depend on has been yelling at us in every way it knows how,” Stander continued, “to tell us that we’re running out of time.”

The organizations called the governor’s proposals promising overall, though details have yet to be released.

One of Shumlin’s ideas — to enforce anti-pollution farm standards using “current use” property tax breaks as leverage — already has proven to be controversial.

The Vermont Farm Bureau, an agricultural trade association, has complained that the governor “demonized” farmers, and using the current-use program for enforcement would create “adversarial tension” with the state.

“Other sources like municipal wastewater and highways serve similar significant roles” in lake pollutants such as phosphorus, the organization said. “However, being demonized by Governor Shumlin as a straw man for the sake of making a point really is unnecessary.”

The farm bureau wants the state to add more staff members at the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets who could help educate small farmers about water-quality regulations, Legislative Director Bill Moore said.

At a separate news conference later in the day, Shumlin announced a $16 million federal grant aimed at boosting water quality by helping farmers in Vermont and New York with riparian buffers and other practices that mitigate pollution. The money comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and will be available for up to five years.

“The farmers are going to have to step up, as they have been,” Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said. “We’re aiming particularly at farms who have not necessarily been as engaged in the past.”


Seven Days: In Court, Vermont Makes Opening Salvo in Defense of GMO Law

Jan 7, 2015
Full Article

“Go get ‘em today,” Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said on Wednesday morning to attorney Larry Robbins, as attorneys in pinstripes and dark suits milled about a courtroom in Burlington’s federal courthouse. “Welcome to Vermont,” Sorrell said to another, working his way down a row of attorneys taking their seats in the courtroom.

What accounted for the sudden influx of out-of-state lawyers in Burlington today? That would be Vermont’s controversial Act 120, the law passed last spring that requires manufacturers to disclose the presence of genetically-engineered ingredients in foods. Signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin in May, the GMO labeling law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2016. If the law stands, it would make Vermont the first state in the country to require labeling of GE foods. Vermont’s law cites estimates that as much as 80 percent of processed foods sold in the United States contained GE ingredients.

Proponents knew a legal challenge to the law was all but guaranteed. It came in June, when four giants in the food industry — the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and the International Dairy Foods Association — filed suit against Shumlin, Sorrell and other state officials. The plaintiffs argue, among other things, that the labeling requirement is unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment by forcing companies to make statements they don’t wish to make. The plaintiffs also argue that Vermont’s law violates interstate commerce rules.

It will likely be months before Judge Christina Reiss either upholds or rejects those claims, but Wednesday’s oral arguments — which focused on Vermont’s motion to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction barring the implementation of the law — could offer a window into some of the legal nuances that could shape Reiss’s decision.

Reiss said early on that she’s confident her job isn’t to judge the merits of GE foods. (The plaintiffs maintain there’s scientific consensus that GE ingredients are safe, while Vermont’s labeling law says GE organisms “potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture and the environment.”) Instead, her job is to determine whether the law stands up in court.

That will depend on legal precedent, and the two sides spent much of Wednesday arguing over the case law they think best supports their position and discredits the opposing side. Both regularly cited two First Amendment standards — the less stringent Zauderer precedent, derived from a 1985 case, or the Central Hudson test, which comes from a 1980 case. Both deal with the government’s power to regulate the commercial “speech” of companies.

The plaintiffs drew frequent comparisons between the GE labeling law and Vermont’s unsuccessful attempt in 1994 to require labels indicating whether milk came from cows treated with the growth hormone rBST. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ultimately struck down the law, finding that solely satisfying consumer curiosity isn’t reason enough to require a manufacturer to make statements — even factual ones — they don’t wish to make.

Robbins argued strenuously that Vermont’s law is constitutional. “Having lost in the legislative arena … [the opponents] come to this court with constitutional arguments that simply don’t fit,” Robbins said.

On the other side of the courtroom, attorney Catherine Stetson countered that Vermont’s law is merely about satisfying the vocal opponents of genetic engineering. “The theme of [Robbins’s] argument is, ‘Give the people what they want,'” said Stetson — a point that seemed to hold merit with Reiss, who added a few minutes later, “I think there is a fair argument, and maybe more than that, that this is about consumer curiosity and nothing more.”

Stetson also argued that the Vermont law is invalid because of “preemption” — that is, the notion that Vermont has set itself at odds with the federal framework that explains how various federal agencies should deal with GE organisms.

Another point of contention on Wednesday revolved around a clause in the Vermont law that would prohibit foods including GE ingredients from being marketed as “natural” or “naturally made.” The law doesn’t include a definition of what “natural” is, though, and Reiss pushed hard against Robbins on that point. If genetic engineering isn’t “natural,” she posited, what about other advances in agriculture such as fertilizers, chemical herbicides and pesticides or hydroponic operations?

And finally, Reiss circled repeatedly back to a big-picture concern: What might happen if manufacturers opted solely to say on labels that foods “may” contain GE ingredients? Would Vermont’s labeling law actually achieve the purposes it set out to achieve?

There was some patently good news for the supporters of Vermont’s law on Wednesday. Reiss ruled early on to reject a motion from the plaintiffs that would have a struck briefs from the Center for Food Safety and Vermont Public Interest Group from the record.

The two other motions — the calls for dismissal, and an injunction — didn’t reach any resolution, though Reiss thanked both sides for offering her “lots to think about.”

After the hearing, Sorrell said Reiss had “tough questions” for both sides. “I think both sides can say we got our day in court,” he said.

It’s likely to be followed by more. Sorrell said today’s arguments — and Reiss’ opinions on the two motions — will serve as “the standard by which you go into battle,” giving litigants some glimpse into what the judge is thinking about their arguments.

In the meantime, work continues on translating the GE labeling law into the rule by which the law will be enforced. The AG’s office released a final draft of that rule last month, and will be taking public comment on the rule through January 28.

Sorrell said that case is being watched closely, nationally and internationally. “By and large, the average American, not just the average Vermonter, wants to know this information, and it’s not just out of idle curiosity,” said Sorrell. That interest is even prompting some donations. The fund organized to collect donations for the law’s defense — nicknamed the Food Fight Fund — has pulled in roughly $400,000.

But the AG’s office isn’t about to be “penny wise and pound foolish,” Sorrell said; the state’s contract with Robbins’ D.C.-based law firm is worth nearly $1.5 million. If the state loses the suit, it will be on the hook for paying the opposing side’s attorney fees, which could drive the total cost to the state up to $5 million.


Burlington Free Press: Poll: An appetite for labeling GMO foods

MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
January 13, 2015
Full Article

A large majority of Americans support labeling of genetically modified foods, whether they care about eating them or not.

According to a December Associated Press-GfK poll, 66 percent of Americans favor requiring food manufacturers to put labels on products that contain genetically modified organisms, or foods grown from seeds engineered in labs. Only 7 percent are opposed to the idea, and 24 percent are neutral.

Fewer Americans say genetically modified ingredients are important to them when judging whether a food is healthy. About 4 in 10 said the presence of such ingredients was very or extremely important to them.

That’s higher than the share who say it’s important to know whether a food is organic, and about on par with the share saying they consider the amount of protein in a food an important factor.

For some, the debate over GMOs is about the food system overall. Andrew Chan of Seattle said he strongly favors labeling genetically modified ingredients, but those ingredients themselves aren’t most important to him. As a parent, he said his top concern is the abundance of processed foods.

“GMO ingredients aren’t the number one thing, but more than likely within a processed food I’d find something that is a genetically modified product,” said Chan, 41.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides or certain plant diseases. Most of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that becoming animal feed. Modified corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients such as corn oil, corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require labeling of genetically modified foods, saying those on the market are safe. Consumer advocates backing labeling say shoppers have a right to know what is in their food, arguing not enough is known about their effects.

The AP-GfK poll comes as several states have weighed in on the issue. Vermont became the first state to require labels for genetically modified foods last year, passing a law in May that will take effect mid-2016 if it survives legal challenges. Maine and Connecticut passed laws before Vermont, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit. Ballot initiatives to require labeling were narrowly defeated in California, Washington and Oregon in recent years.

The food industry and seed companies have aggressively fought attempts to force labeling, and have pushed a bill in Congress that would block those efforts. The bill by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, would reaffirm that such food labels are voluntary, overriding any state laws that require them.

In a December congressional hearing on the issue, members of both parties were less inclined than the public to support labeling. Many questioned whether mandatory GMO labels would be misleading to consumers since there is little scientific evidence that such foods are unsafe.

According to the AP-GfK poll, public support for labeling GMOs was bipartisan, with 71 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favoring labeling. Even among conservative Republicans, more than 6 in 10 favor a labeling requirement.

Jay Jaffe, a Republican from Philadelphia, says he strongly favors labeling even though he has no problem buying GMOs. “If they are cheaper and they taste right to me, I’ll buy it,” he says.

Still, he thinks there should be accountability in the food industry. “It should be there and not in small print,” he said of GMO labels. “People should be able to make a choice.”

Lucinda Morel, an independent who leans Democratic from Los Angeles, says she is very conscious of ingredients as a mother of three young children. She strongly favors labeling GMO foods.

Morel said she is concerned that so many foods have become modified “before we can see any ramifications or any fallout, if there is any, from making such changes so quickly.”

The food industry has faced pressure from retailers as consumer awareness of GMOs has increased. The retailer Whole Foods plans to label GMO products in all its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018. And some companies have decided to remove the ingredients altogether.


VT Digger: Shumlin’s inaugural address focuses on energy, environment

John Herrick
Jan. 8 2015
Full Article & Video

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s inaugural address focused on efforts to clean up the state’s lakes and streams, and chart a more aggressive renewable energy course in Vermont.

Shortly after Shumlin was re-elected to a third term by a vote of the Legislature on Thursday morning, he spoke to a packed chamber at the Statehouse about his priorities this year. He put off until next week’s budget address his plans to deal with the looming budget gap, property taxes and health care reform, prompting single-payer advocates to disrupt his speech.

Among his top priorities this year is raising money to restore Lake Champlain’s water quality. He also promoted a new renewable energy program that will require utilities to sell cleaner forms of energy — such as wind and solar — to electric customers.

“We know that everything we hold precious is under threat from climate change and pollution,” he said.

Lake Champlain

He said the state is losing the battle on water quality. Lake Champlain, he said, “drives tourism and supports our economy even as it cries out for us to do more to stop dumping pollutants that are destroying it.”

But runoff from farms, roads and developed areas has for years polluted the lake. Now, federal regulators are requiring the state to cut phosphorus loading into the lake by more than 30 percent in order to comply with the Clean Water Act. If the state fails to address the issue, regulators say they will cut funding to the state and issue stricter regulations on wastewater treatment plants — a situation Shumlin said will cost the state more.

The Environmental Protection Agency is asking the state to allocate money for the cleanup before it approves the state’s plan, which still fails to meet required pollution targets, EPA officials say. To pay for the plan, the Shumlin administration is proposing a tax on fertilizer and a commercial development fee.

In May, Shumlin was hesitant to invest state money in Lake Champlain. Now, he said his capital budget includes $6.75 million for projects and technical assistance; $3.75 million for stormwater management projects; $1.4 million for agricultural projects designed to prevent pollution; and $3.2 million to reduce runoff from roads.

Shumlin said the fertilizer tax and the development fee will raise an additional $5 million per year. Keurig Green Mountain has committed $5 million in a private donations over a five-year period to a new Clean Water Fund, and Shumlin is soliciting more private money to support cleanup.

“I need your support to ensure that the state of Vermont does its part, and I look forward to working with you this session to launch a new era of clean water in Vermont. This will be part of our collective legacy if we can get it right, and the time to act is now,” he said.

Chris Kilian, vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation, said it appears that improving the lake’s water quality is now a priority.

“But, as always, the devil is in the details. Actions speak louder than words,” Kilian said.

CLF filed a petition calling on the Agency of Agriculture to require farms to adopt mandatory pollution control measures — such as cover cropping and livestock exclusion — in the Missisquoi Bay basin. But the Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross rejected the petitions, and CLF is appealing in environmental court.

Shumlin said he will consider removing tax breaks for farmers whose land is in current use — a program that provides an incentive to keep land undeveloped — if farmers violate water quality regulations. He said the agency will target resources and increase enforcement in sections on the watershed most prone to causing pollution runoff.

“I will ask you to help me hold those farms that have not been doing the right thing more accountable by adding teeth to our current use program,” Shumlin said. “Similar to the way we treat foresters, farmers who are not following the required practices that prevent pollution should not enjoy the property tax reduction of current use until they do the work required of them.”

On Thursday Ross said under the proposal farmers who follow the rules will continue to benefit from the current use program, but “when they don’t we’re going to be saying your current use is abated. It’s going to be restricted until you follow the rules and regulations of the state.”

The Agency of Agriculture does not have estimates on how many farmers would be affected, or how much money they could lose in current use tax breaks. Ross said the agency is still figuring out how to pursue enforcement, but he said the state will likely use a mechanism now in place for the forestry component of current use.

House Minority Leader Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, supported Shumlin’s intent to clean up the lake, but opposed his plan for how to pay for it. He said money within the existing budget could be better used before adding taxes and fees.

“We are not interested in raising taxes, raising fees for new revenue streams at this point,” he said.

Turner said he was not prepared to support the governor’s proposal to use the changes in current use to pay for the cleanup.

“I think that we know that current use is a very popular program, and it is a very expensive program. But if we want open land in Vermont its been one of those tools that has worked really well,” he said.

Renewable Portfolio Standard

The administration is proposing a new renewable energy program that will require utilities to purchase renewable power, such as wind and solar. The state’s current program is voluntary.

“If we work together to enact this legislation, it will mark our single biggest step so far toward reaching our climate and renewable energy goals. Jobs, energy savings and emissions reductions make this program a true win for our economy and our environment,” Shumlin said.

He said the the new program will add “hundreds of megawatts of new community-scale, locally generated clean energy to our portfolio,” create “1,000 additional jobs,” save electric customers “hundreds of millions of dollars on energy bills,” and reduce “greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 15 million metric tons through 2032.”


WCAX: Vt. GMO labeling law faces 1st legal challenge

Jan 09, 2015
By Logan Crawford
Full Article & Video

MONTPELIER, Vt. –

National food groups are suing the state of Vermont over the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The state passed legislation to label every food product that has GMOs, but Wednesday the law faced its first legal challenge.

The hearing is not the start of the trial. It’s a chance for supporters of GMO labeling to try to get the case thrown out and opponents to stall the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

National food manufacturers are suing the Green Mountain State, arguing Vermont’s new GMO labeling law is unconstitutional. Opponents say the labels would violate First Amendment free speech rights. And they argue the state of Vermont has no authority to order GMO labeling while the Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically engineered foods be labeled.

Attorneys for the food associations declined to comment on camera about the case but sent a statement to WCAX saying: “The U.S. Constitution prohibits Vermont from regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce. That is the sole province of the federal government.”

Another argument some in the food industry have made is that GMO labels could wrongly imply foods are unsafe.

But state officials say they are on solid legal ground that GMO labels are no different from other labels indicating what is in a food item.

“The same way they’re required to disclose sugar content, fat content, calories, salt, whatever. It’s not caution this is harmful to your health, it’s just for consumers to look at two packages, see what’s in them and make a decision on which they want to buy,” said Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.

A U.S. District Court judge is considering the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the industry’s motion to block the law from taking effect until after the legal case is decided. Sorrell says Wednesday’s hearing is just the first day of a process that could take months. The lawsuit will take even longer.

“I’ll be really surprised if this case is over in the next few years, it’s going to take a long time. But we’re fighting, and we hope to have the law upheld,” said Sorrell.

The GMO labeling law is scheduled to start July 1, 2016, but the judge’s decision on this hearing will determine when the law will take effect and if the case will go to trial. The state has a fund to help with legal costs called the Vermont Food Fight Fund. Donations from individuals to the likes of Ben & Jerry’s have raised more than $330,000 so far according to the Food Fight Fund’s Twitter.