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Burlington Free Press: How GMO labeling came to pass in Vermont

By Terri Hallenbeck
April 27, 2014
Full Article

Sen. Bobby Starr gives little thought to whether there are any genetically modified organisms in the food he eats. The retired Northeast Kingdom truck driver rarely is swayed when organizations blitz legislators about a cause. As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he came to the Statehouse in January dubious of a bill that would require labeling of foods that contain GMOs.

But by mid-February, Starr’s committee had voted out a bill, and he was a supporter. That bill is on the way to the Governor’s Office to become law, moving Vermont in place to become the first state to require labeling.

Along the way, Starr and his fellow legislators were bombarded with phone calls, emails and postcards urging them to pass the bill. Veteran lawmakers from Derby to Bennington, Georgia to Brattleboro who typically are unimpressed by the deluge of rote form letters they receive for various causes found that these messages came from real people they knew in their communities.

“What it came down to is, the people I represent wanted it,” said Starr, a Democrat who represents relatively conservative Essex and Orleans counties. “In the end I said, ‘Well, individual rights are more important than an industry’s rights.’”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, a Democrat from also relatively conservative Bennington, said he was driving down a back road near his house when he saw a sign calling for GMO labeling. “I said, ‘Boy this is real. They want this.’”

Despite the threat of a lawsuit hanging over their heads from food manufacturers, key lawmakers went from skeptical to sold on a labeling law within months because a well-organized, well-funded and seasoned group of supporters launched one of the biggest grassroots efforts the state has seen.

How’d they do it?

A combination of factors came together to take the labeling bill to the finish line, said Dave Rogers, policy director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, who was among those working for the bill. Luck helped, he said, but so did an unrelenting group effort, extensive use of social media that has changed the speed with which causes spread, and Vermont’s two decades of experience in resisting the use of genetic engineering in agriculture.

“We have like a 20-year history of working on these issues,” Rogers said. “We have a whole population of educated activists.”

A 2012 Statehouse public hearing about the GMO labeling issue offered a hint of what was to come. Some 300 people crowded into the House chamber. All of those testifying spoke in favor of labeling. The fervor brewing that night had been steeping for more than a decade.

Opposition to GMOs in Vermont dates back to the earliest days of the process, which began producing crops in the 1990s. In 2003, 37 Vermont towns passed resolutions at town meeting that demanded the labeling of genetically modified foods.

The next year, lawmakers passed a first-in the-nation bill requiring that GMO seeds be labeled — a law that apparently has never been enforced. Amy Shollenberger, a lobbyist hired by the Vermont Right to Know Coalition who has been working on GMO issues for more than a decade, noted that the 2004 bill passed the Legislature 10 years to the day from when the Senate took its vote this month on the food-labeling bill.

In 2006, Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed a bill that would have made seed manufacturers liable for damages from genetically modified seeds that drift onto organic farms.

Although little came from some of those efforts, the sentiment behind them never died.

After labeling legislation failed to move in 2011, Will Allen, manager of Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center in Thetford, said he realized Vermont needed a more refined bill similar to those that were then in the works in California and Washington. In 2012, he pulled together four groups to form the Vermont Right to Know Coalition to work on passing a labeling bill.

Those groups — Cedar Circle Farm, NOFA, Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Rural Vermont — have stuck together for three years. Unlike many such coalitions, Allen said, this one worked.

“It’s not that we didn’t have disagreements,” Allen said, but, “I think everybody believed we could do it.”

Rep. Kate Webb, a Shelburne Democrat, introduced a new labeling bill in 2012, already well into the second year of a biennium. The bill had no chance of passing the Legislature, but supporters were undaunted. “All we’re doing is seeing if this thing flies,” Allen said of the late-session strategy.

That bill started taking flight a year later. Allen’s coalition had a lot to do with getting the measure off the ground.

With help from friends

All the members of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition had experience on the issue. Each had extensive and varied membership lists that provided names of potential supporters across Vermont. They had money, too, thanks in part to national organizations that saw Vermont as a foothold for the GMO-labeling movement across the country.

Allen said the coalition took in $750,000 to $1 million, about half from in-state and half from outside supporters, which included Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the Organic Consumers’ Fund and Mercola Corp.

That money helped pay for newspaper advertisements across Vermont and for legal and scientific expertise to help persuade Vermont lawmakers. Those efforts largely were behind-the-scenes. Vermont advocates discouraged national groups from swooping in with the kind of media blitz often used in other states, said Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden.

“We told the national groups not to do TV ads, that it would backfire,” he said.

Those national groups might be back to help with the cause if Vermont is sued regarding the labeling law.

Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said in a statement after the House voted last week to send the bill to the governor, “If Vermont is sued, we intend to use all the resources at our disposal to support Vermont in its groundbreaking effort.”

Targeting messages

Meanwhile, another member of the coalition, VPIRG, launched the organization’s biggest summer campaign ever last year, sending teams of young activists to knock on doors in every Vermont town and to sign people up as supporters of GMO labeling, Executive Director Paul Burns said. He estimated VPIRG spent $500,000 this year and last year on GMO-labeling efforts.

VPIRG’s summer campaign came right after the 2013 legislative session, when the House passed a GMO labeling bill in the final hours, leaving the measure pending for the Senate when lawmakers returned in January. Burns knew his crew could focus efforts on winning over just 30 senators, zeroing in particularly on key players such as Starr and Sears, chairmen of two committees that would consider the measure.

“The opportunity for impact was particularly great,” Burns said. With experience lobbying in the Statehouse on other matters over the years, Burns’ organization also knew the personalities of senators. In trying to reach Sears, Burns said, “We knew he responded to a high level of contact. We tried to get him personal letters, phone calls.”

The door-knockers collected 30,000 signatures from those who agreed that people should know what is in their food, Burns said. Those names went into a database of supporters who could be called on later. VPIRG carefully sorted postcards from Vermonters urging support for the bill and sent the cards to the corresponding legislators.

All the cards, phone calls and emails had an impact, because many of the people behind them were constituents whom legislators knew and who were genuinely enthusiastic for GMO labeling. Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, said, “A bunch of people I know signed onto it. It is important to real constituents.”

By March of this year, two separate polls indicated that Vermonters are keen on GMO labeling. A Castleton Polling Institute poll conducted for VTDigger.org last month showed 79 percent of respondents support a labeling law.

A Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont poll conducted at about the same time showed 90 percent supported the labeling of GMO foods, and 80 percent supported a law requiring labeling, said center Director Dr. Jane Kolodinsky. She said she was confident the poll asked the questions as neutrally as possible, though she acknowledged the term “genetically modified” has a negative sound to it.

Legal advice

In the labeling bill that’s headed to the governor’s desk, legislators cited the conflicting studies as a reason to offer consumer labels.

“There is a lack of consensus regarding the validity of the research and science surrounding the safety of genetically engineered foods, as indicated by the fact that there are peer-reviewed studies published in international scientific literature showing negative, neutral, and positive health results,” the bill states.

Lawmakers were provided information about some of that conflicting research by a team from Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, which worked pro bono for VPIRG. Legal advice from the center and others helped bolster legislators’ confidence that a lawsuit might be winnable, said Sears, the Judiciary Committee chairman.

“We shared our conclusion that we think this bill is constitutional,” said Laura Murphy, the clinic’s associate director and an assistant professor at the law school. Law students working under her guidance pointed to court decisions where labeling laws, such as New York City’s calorie label requirement, were upheld.

That allowed Sears and others to have greater faith that perhaps Vermont’s GMO-labeling bill would have a better fate than the state’s law that required milk containing bovine growth hormones to be labeled. That law was ruled unconstitutional in 1996.

Sears said he went into the debate supportive of labeling but wanting protection from a lawsuit. “Getting over that hurdle was difficult for me,” Sears said.

Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, said when supporters met with Sears in December, he wanted a labeling bill to include a trigger, by which the law would take effect only if other states passed similar laws. Connecticut and Maine have laws with such triggers, and it was something Vermont advocates opposed as close to meaningless.

“He was absolutely adamant about a multi-state trigger,” Stander said of Sears. “He’s an example of a person who has moved on this. He began to understand that the grounds of the bill are strong.”

The Vermont Right to Know coalition also hired Emord and Associates, a Washington law firm, to evaluate the bill, giving legislators another measure of confidence that it might survive legal challenge. “It had an impact,” Allen said.

Opposition quiet

Opponents of labeling, meanwhile, were uncharacteristically quiet throughout the legislative debate. Food manufacturers and the biotechnology industry testified against the bill but never mounted the same kind of sizable lobbying and advertising effort they did to kill a similar effort in New Hampshire, or to defeat public votes in California and Washington.

“We weren’t able to get traction,” said Karen Batra, communications director for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which instead supports pending federal legislation that would require labeling of GMO foods nationally if the FDA determines there is a health or safety risk. “We had the numbers against us in the Legislature. It was a priority with Democrats.”

The mild tone of the opposition surprised proponents of the bill. “One theory out there is they want to fight it in court. It’s been a mystery. I’m sure there’s a strategy to it,” said Shollenberger, the Montpelier lobbyist who was hired by the coalition this year to help with the campaign.

Batra said she was unable to comment about whether her organization or its members would sue Vermont regarding the law. Laggis, the organization’s Vermont lobbyist, said she expects any lawsuit would come from the food producers rather than from the biotechnology industry.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association responded to a request for comment with a statement, which said in part, “As we continue to evaluate the impacts of HB 112, we will make a determination about whether litigation is the appropriate response to this misguided legislation.”

The association argued that genetically modified crops use less water and fewer pesticides and reduce crop prices by 15-30 percent. “Consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients have the option to choose from an array of products already in the marketplace labeled ‘certified organic.’ The government therefore has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients, making HB 112′s legality suspect at best,” the grocers group said in the statement

The legislation has critics in Vermont’s food network, too. Kim Crosby, owner of Vermont Roots, a specialty food producer based in Rutland, said of the labeling bill, “I’m very sad it passed. I really feel they did not do the research.”

Crosby said she believes activists too easily influenced people into thinking that labeling is needed. “I’m still flabbergasted. I can’t believe they got that influence,” she said.

Crosby said the law will create uncertainty for her and for other food producers as they wait to see what the Attorney General’s Office decides on the details of what has to be labeled and how they have to go about proving whether a product is GMO-free. She’s wondering whether she has to prove that products that contain no soy, corn, canola or rape seed — the ingredients commonly containing GMOs — are GMO-free.

“There’s just so many questions surrounding this,” Crosby said. “This could affect a lot of products.”

Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 999-9994 or thallenbeck@freepressmedia.com.

GMO labeling details

Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected to sign a bill as early as this week that could make the state the first to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified organisms. Here’s a look at some of the details:

• What are GMOs: Genetically modified organisms are plants and animals whose cells have been inserted with a gene from an unrelated species in order to take on specific characteristics, such as resistance to insects or an increase in specific nutrients. Food from genetically engineered plants has been in the food supply since the 1990s.

• Foods commonly containing GMOs: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 94 percent of cotton, 93 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of corn planted in the U.S. are genetically modified. Those are commonly found in foods such as soups, sauces, mayonnaise, salad dressings, cereals, breads and snack foods. Certified organic products are not allowed to contain GMOs.

• When labeling would start in Vermont: July 1, 2016, after the Attorney General’s Office finalizes specifics.

• How labels would be worded: The bill offers three wording options subject to modifcations by the Attorney General’s Office: “partially produced with genetic engineering,” “may be produced with genetic engineering,” or “produced with genetic engineering.” Supporters say Vermont’s label would be unlike those in the European Union, which are included in the list of ingredients, because in the U.S. the nutrition label is under federal guidelines.

• Exemptions: Food served in restaurants, liquor, meat and dairy products would be exempt from labeling. Meat is regulated by the federal government. Authors of the bill argue that dairy products made from animals that eat genetically modified food are not themselves genetically modified. Liquor is not considered food. Restaurants are exempt because authors of the bill said they were focusing on foods where consumers routinely see labels.

• Use of the word “natural:” No foods sold in Vermont after July 2016 that contain GMOs may be labeled natural.

• Possibility of a lawsuit: Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said Vermont is likely to be sued by food manufacturers if the state becomes the first to require labeling. If the state loses, he estimated the cost at $5 million to $8 million. The bill establishes a fund to which people may voluntarily contribute and which will receive money the state receives from other legal settlements that are not otherwise directed in the state budget, but would otherwise be funded by the state budget.

• Elsewhere: 64 countries, including the European Union, Australia, Japan and China, require labeling of GMO foods. No other U.S. states do. Connecticut passed a law in 2013 that would require labeling if at least four neighboring states with a combined population of 20 million pass similar laws. Maine passed a labeling law this year that would require labeling once five neighboring states, including New Hampshire, pass similar laws.


Raw Milk Delivery Bill Passes House

On Friday, April 25, 2014 the Vermont House easily passed S.70, the raw milk delivery to farmers markets’ bill, on a voice vote. The House agreed to support it with amendments that improved upon what the Senate originally passed. More information about what improvements S.70 would make to the raw milk law on this page.

Pictured: Rep. John Bartholomew from Hartland presenting S.70 on the floor of the House on Friday 4-25-14. Rep. Teo Zagar, from Barnard, also a raw milk supporter, listens in the foreground.


09/20 18th Annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference

Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center

Keynote speaker will be Donna Carpenter, President of Burton Snowboards.  Over three decades, Donna has played a critical role in growing Burton from a once-small factory in a Vermont barn, to a thriving international powerhouse. 

The Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference enjoys a long tradition of bringing women together from all corners of Vermont to explore career opportunities, sharpen business skills and expand professional networks.  The conference draws hundreds of women for a full day of workshops tailored to meet a range of talents and skill levels.   

In the interest of making the conference accessible to all, there is no charge for registration or for pre-arranged child care.  More information atwww.leahy.senate.gov.


Huffington Post: Vermont Lawmakers Pass GMO Labeling Bill; Governor Expected To Sign

By DAVE GRAM and LISA RATHKE
Full Article & Video

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont lawmakers have passed the country’s first state bill to require the labeling of genetically modified foods, underscoring a division between powerful lobbyists for the U.S. food industry and an American public that overwhelmingly says it approves of the idea.

The Vermont House approved the measure Wednesday evening, about a week after the state Senate, and Gov. Peter Shumlin said he plans to sign it. The requirements would take effect July 1, 2016, giving food producers time to comply.

Shumlin praised the vote. “I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food,” he said in a statement.

Genetically modified organisms — often used in crop plants — have been changed at their genetic roots to be resistant to insects, germs or herbicides. The development in Vermont is important because it now puts the U.S. on the map of governments taking a stance against a practice that has led to bountiful crops and food production but has stirred concerns about the dominance of big agribusiness and the potential for unforeseen effects on the natural environment. Some scientists and activists worry about potential effects on soil health and pollination of neighboring crops.

Twenty-nine other states have proposed bills this year and last to require genetically modified organism — or GMO — labeling, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two other New England states have passed laws to require GMO labeling, but the legislation takes effect only when neighboring states also approve the requirement. They are Maine and Connecticut; neither neighbor Vermont.

The European Union already has restricted the regulation, labeling and sale of GMO foods. Several credible polls have found that Americans overwhelmingly favor the notion of labeling genetically modified foods. Organic farmers and others are praising Vermont’s move, while the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food producers, called it a step in the wrong direction.

As farmers, Katie Spring and her husband are proud of how they grow their greens, carrots, potatoes, peppers and herbs and raise their chickens and pigs at their Worcester, Vt., farm and are willing to answer questions from customers. As eaters, Spring feels like she and her customers have the right to know what’s in their food, whether it’s saturated fat or genetically modified organisms, which they don’t use on their farm.

But the industry is opposed.

The association is disappointed that Vermont is going at it alone and had hoped for a regional approach. Trying to have 50 different state rules about what goes on food packaging “gets very costly, very confusing and very difficult for the entire food industry to comply with,” said the association’s president, Jim Harrison.

But others are praising Vermont as a leader, even though they expect the law to spark lawsuits. The bill includes a $1.5 million fund to be used to implement the law and provide legal defense against lawsuits expected to be brought by food and biotech industries.

“Every Vermonter has a right to know what is in their food,” said Shap Smith, speaker of the Vermont House. “Genetically engineered foods potentially pose risks to human health and the environment. I am proud to be the first state in the nation to recognize that people deserve to know whether the food they consume is genetically modified or engineered.”

The Vermont legislation says there is a lack of consensus among scientific studies on the safety of genetically modified foods, and no long-term epidemiological studies in the United States examining their effects. Genetically modified foods “potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture, and the environment,” the legislation says.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association is urging policymakers to support federal legislation that would require a label on foods containing such ingredients if the FDA finds there is a health or safety risk. But many farmers see it as a David-vs.-Goliath victory.

“This vote is a reflection of years of work from a strong grassroots base of Vermonters who take their food and food sovereignty seriously and do not take kindly to corporate bullies,” Will Allen, manager of Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, said in a statement Wednesday after the House approved the bill.


VT Digger: Vermont will be first state in nation to require GMO labeling

John Herrick
Apr. 23 2014
Full Article

Vermont will likely be the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified organisms.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday he will sign Vermont’s GMO labeling bill into law. His announcement came just minutes after the House gave H.112 final legislative approval by a 114-30 vote.

“I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food,” Shumlin said in a statement. “Vermont has led the local food movement that is better connecting people nationwide with the food they eat.”

The bill would take effect July 1, 2016. Other states have labeling laws that go into effect when neighboring states pass similar policies.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, has been pushing for GMO labeling for much of his career in the state Legislature. Zuckerman was first elected to the House in 1996.

“Vermont has now put a stake in the sand around food transparency, and it may well help create that across the country, much as we did with marriage equality and other historic measures,” Zuckerman said.

There will be challenges ahead, he said.

“There is no doubt that there is a risk of a legal challenge by the food manufacturers. And my hope that they would rather comply with people’s wishes rather than hide behind legal arguments to keep their food opaque,” Zuckerman said. “To me food transparency is as important as government transparency.”

House Speaker Shap Smith said in a statement: “Every Vermonter has a right to know what is in their food. Genetically engineered foods potentially pose risks to human health and the environment. I am proud to be the first state in the nation to recognize that people deserve to know whether the food they consume is genetically modified or engineered.”

The potential for litigation was among the top concern lawmakers opposing the bill raised on Wednesday. Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who anticipates a lawsuit, estimated the cost of litigation at $1 million if the state were to win. A loss would cost $5 million or more.

That’s why the bill sets up a $1.5 million special fund reserved for defending the state in court. This money would be raised from state appropriations, private donations and settlement proceeds.

The Vermont Attorney General has defended two high profile laws passed by the Legislature that have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, including a law restricting campaign contributions and another statute that restricted the resale of doctors’ prescription records. Both state statutes, the court ruled, violated the First Amendment.

The majority of commodity crops sold in the U.S. are genetically engineered. Corn, soybeans and cotton used in many packaged snack foods, sweeteners and cereals contain genetically modified organisms.

The biotechnology industry, which manufactures genetically engineered food products, opposes Vermont’s legislation.

But Daniel Barlow, a lobbyist for the trade group Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said the bill will give Vermont businesses and retailers a competitive advantage in the region.

“Once Vermont’s known as a state where our food is labeled, people from New Hampshire, people from New York and people from Massachusetts will come here to shop for their groceries,” Barlow said. “Because they know that when they go in the grocery store they are going to have more information here than they will back home.”

Scientists disagree on whether consuming genetically engineered food products is harmful to human health, but proponents of the initiative say it’s about consumer information. Environmentalists point out that genetically engineered crops allow for heavy application of weed killers, and U.S. farmers this year are using more herbicides to kill off herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is pushing for federal labeling reform, congratulated the Vermont Legislature on Wednesday.

“I am very proud our small state stood up to Monsanto and other multi-national food conglomerates and is taking the lead in a movement to allow the people of our country to know what is in the food that they eat,” Sanders said in a statement.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 25 states have introduced GMO labeling bills this year.

“I do think that this is a model that other states can look to in passing other legislation,” said Falko Schilling, a lobbyist for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “This is really a start to a much larger movement across the country.”

Animal products would not be covered by the legislation. But the Vermont Attorney General’s Office will report back to lawmakers next session on whether to require dairy products to be labeled.

A VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute poll shows that 79 percent of Vermonters support GMO labeling.


The Bridge: The GMO Labeling Bill: Vermont Won’t Wait

By Amy Brooks Thornton
4/17/14
Full Article

Vermont has passed historic GMO (genetically modified organisms) labeling legislation—the nation’s first GMO labeling law to be effective without the requisite that other states pass similar legislation. This “Right to Know” law, passed by 26 to 2 votes, requires food producers to state on food labels or, in the case of unwrapped produce, in bins or on shelving, whether food products contain GMOs or were produced using genetic engineering.

On April 16, the Vermont Senate approved the legislation with amendments to the House of Representatives’ version and will returning it to the House for approval of the proposed changes. If the House concurs, the law heads to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is likely to sign the bill.

Genetically engineered foods defined and argued

As defined by the World Health Organization, genetically modified foods are “derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.” Although most genetically modified foods are derived from plants, development of foods from genetically engineered microorganisms and animals is likely.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, genetically engineered crops, including corn, cotton and soybeans, are grown on about half of the 169 million acres of US cropland. Topping the list of genetically engineered vegetables are corn, soy, zucchini, alfalfa, canola and, making up half of the U.S. sugar production, sugar beets. Eighty percent of processed foods include genetically modified ingredients.

Genetically modified food opponents argue that genetic engineering of food may interfere with environmental and human natural biological processes, alter or decrease naturally existing nutritional value in food and ultimately be unethical. Advocates contend that genetic engineering of food can increase nutritional value and crop production and create more weather and insect resilient plants.

“Whether the science is good or bad is not the question,” said Sen. Joe Benning, R- Caledonia. “The question is, does the consumer have the right to know?”

Vermonters want the right to know

According to Washington County Republican Sen. Bill Doyle’s Town Meeting Day survey, 76 percent of Vermonters who responded voted that food products sold in Vermont produced with genetic engineering should be labeled. Fifteen percent disapproved, and nine percent were undecided.

Vermont’s “Right to Know” bill, H.112, strives to empower the consumer “to make informed decisions regarding the potential health effects of food they purchase … the environmental impacts of their food,” and “disclose factual information and protect religious practices.”

Should there be a dairy exemption?

Should milk and products made primarily with milk, such as plain yogurt, butter and cheese,  be exempt from GMO labeling? If cows are fed corn, and the majority of corn grown in the United States is genetically engineered, there’s a good chance GMOs will be in your morning coffee—if you drink it with half and half.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, explains the complexity surrounding labeling dairy and meat. Strict federal labeling laws for dairy and meat already exist, but they do not require label information on genetically engineered feed given to the animals. The state of Vermont may not be able to override federal law due to federal preemption—when the federal government can invalidate a conflicting state law.

Federal law bars GMO labeling of dairy. But, because the Legislature wants to be sure not to appear to be creating legislation favoring Vermont’s dairy industry, the Right to Know legislation includes a study under the Office of the Attorney General. The study, due by Jan. 15, 2015, will recommend whether or not milk and products made primarily with milk should be labeled and the legal basis for the recommendation.

‘No’ to the trigger mechanism

And then there’s the issue of neighborly collaboration. Vermont may be the first state to approve a Right to Know GMO labeling law without a “trigger mechanism,” which would put the law’s implementation on hold until neighboring states follow suit. Maine and Connecticut have already approved GMO labeling legislation, but these include triggers. The rationale of waiting is that if states collectively passed GMO labeling laws, they would be able to pool resources to defend themselves against almost certain lawsuits from food associations, such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

But Sen. Zuckerman believes that a food association could sue one state, compelling that state to defend itself alone without neighborhood collaboration. He doesn’t like the idea of passing a law that can’t be put into effect.

“The idea of passing with a trigger was, at best, passing the buck; at worst, duping our voters,” Zuckerman said. It’s “giving people a pipe dream. We either believe we have the evidence or we don’t. Let’s do it.”

Vermont may decide to move forward alone. Supporting the House decision not to wait for other states, the Senate approved a new date of July 1, 2016, for the law to become effective whether or not other states join in.

Funding our legal defense

To help alleviate the cost of legal defense against potential litigation from food associations, and hopefully reduce the burden to Vermont taxpayers, the Senate created a legal fund with a goal of $1.5 million. The attorney general can also use the fund to implement the legislation.

Monies for the fund can come from three places: gifts from individuals and public and private organizations, which is standard operating procedure for such special funds; excess monies from pending suits in the attorney general’s office; and, possibly, the 2016 state budget. If the fund does not reach $1.5 million by end of Fiscal Year 2015, the attorney general will make a budget request for funds to cover the gap.

However, Zuckerman doesn’t think the state will have to kick in. “I am extremely confident we will have $1.5 million in the fund,” he said. “There are people and organizations all across this country who would … be willing to help.”

Industry and consumer cost

Legal issues aside, will the industry pass the cost of labeling onto the consumer, increasing food prices? The Washington State Academy of Sciences, in its report Labeling of Foods Containing Genetically Modified Ingredients, found that the direct costs of mandatory labeling were notable.


04/23 Breaking News: GMO Bill Goes to Governor!

State House Applause04/23: Vermont legislature passes the nation’s first “no strings attached” GMO labeling bill! The House of Representatives voted 114 to 30 to concur with the Senate’s version of H.112, and the bill now heads to Governor Shumlin’s desk for his signature. See how your representative voted here.  More details on this page.

 

 


04/23: Raw Milk Delivery Bill (S.70) Heads to the House Floor

The House Agriculture Committee voted 4/22 to pass S.70 with amendments and send it to the floor of the House on Thursday, 4/24. You can read the Committee’s amended version of S.70 here.


04/22 ALERT! Breaking News & Call to Action!

State House ApplauseGMO LABELING BILL WILL HAVE ITS FINAL VOTE TOMORROW – WED. APRIL 23

Late this afternoon the House Ag Committee voted 9-2 to concur with the Senate’s amendments to H.112, the GMO Labeling Bill. They arrived at this decision after consultations with the House Judiciary and Appropriations Committees. There was a lot of discussion, many questions were asked and in the end they agreed that the Senate did a good job of strengthening the bill.

NOW, the bill will go back to the floor of the House one more time for its final vote on Wed. The House session is scheduled to begin at 1PM and H.112 is first on their agenda. It will probably be over in the blink of an eye but if you want to come to Montpelier for this historic event, please do. Otherwise you can listen to the action on VPR’s live stream.

We hope Vermont will make history again tomorrow and the next stop will be the Governor’s desk. Stay tuned for news about that soon!

MEANWHILE…

RAW MILK DELIVERY BILL (S.70) HEADS TO THE HOUSE FLOOR ON THURS. APRIL 24 -
CALLS NEEDED NOW (See below for details)

The House Agriculture Committee showed off it’s multitasking skill by also voting to pass S.70 with amendments and send it to the floor of the House on Thursday. 4/24. You can read the Committee’s amended version of S.70 here.

Although the bill makes only modest improvements in providing greater access to raw milk, the process of taking testimony and debating the bill has significantly raised the profile of the issue and the level of respect for the farmers who produce this highly valued product. Many of the House Ag Committee members have expressed interest in pursuing further improvements next year.

BUT WE’RE GOING TO NEED YOUR HELP:
Because the legislative session will end in less than three weeks, it’s going to be a challenge to get S.70, as amended by the House Ag Committee, PASSED by the FULL HOUSE this week and then back over to the Senate to get them to concur before the session ends.

PLEASE CALL THE STATE HOUSE RIGHT AWAY: 828-2228
Leave a message for your Representative with the following information: Your name, town, phone number and the message: Please vote YES on S.70, the raw milk delivery bill as amended by the House Agriculture Committee.

If you have questions or need help contacting your legislator please contact Robb Kidd, Rural Vermont’s Organizer or call the office at 223-7222.

THANKS IN ADVANCE FOR TAKING ACTION – IF ENOUGH LEGISLATORS HEAR FROM THEIR CONSTITUENTS, WE CAN PASS THIS BILL AND MAKE RAW MILK MORE AVAILABLE.

The Rural Vermont Team


Reuters: Vermont Senate passes mandatory GMO food-labeling law

By Carey Gillam and Lisa Baertlein
April 16
Full Article

The Vermont Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would make the state the first in the United States to enact mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically modified crops.

“We are really excited that Vermont is going to be leading on this,” said Falko Schilling, a spokesman for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which backed the bill.

The bill, approved 28-2 by the Senate, has already passed the Vermont House of Representatives. It now goes back to the House to see if members will approve changes made by the Senate.

The law is set to take effect July 1, 2016.

The move in Vermont comes as the developers of genetically modified crops and U.S. grocery manufacturers push for passage of an opposing bill, introduced in Congress last week, that would nullify any state law that requires labeling of foods made with genetically modified crops.

The Vermont law passed by the Senate would do just that – processed foods that contain genetically modified corn, soybeans or other GMO ingredients and sold at retail outlets would have to be labeled as having been produced or partially produced with “genetic engineering.”

Andrea Stander, a spokesperson for the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition, said they expect the biotech industry to sue in an attempt to stop enactment of the bill. As such, the language of the bill includes formation of a fund that would pay legal bills.

“It’s not just Vermont,” said Stander. “This affects everyone who eats. Consumers all across the country have woken up to the fact that we’ve become an unregulated feeding experiment by the biotech industry. People want to know if their foods are made with these ingredients. This gives people the choice.”

Consumer groups say labeling is needed because of questions both about the safety of GM crops – known as GMOs – for human health and the environment.

The language of the Vermont bill states that foods made with genetically engineered crops “potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture, and the environment” and should be labeled.

Last October, a group of 93 international scientists issued a statement saying there was a lack of empirical and scientific evidence to support what they said were false claims the biotech industry was making about a “consensus” on safety.

The group said there needed to be more independent research as studies showing safety tend to be funded and backed by the biotech industry.

But GMO crop developers like Monsanto, and their backers say genetically modified crops are proven safe.

Ballot measures in California in 2012 and last year in Washington state narrowly lost after Monsanto and other GMO crop developers and members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association poured millions into campaigns to defeat the measures.

The Vermont bill makes it illegal to describe any food product containing GMOs as “natural” or “all natural.” Unlike bills passed last year in Maine and Connecticut, which require other states to pass GMO labeling laws before they can be enacted, Vermont’s law contains no such trigger clause.