Author Archives: Mollie

Burlington Free Press: Vermont farm, forestry projects share $1.1M

Vermont awarded $1.1 million to 37 farm and forestry projects around the state on Tuesday in the second year it offered working lands grants.

Among the recipients is Grow Compost of Vermont LLC, which is receiving $75,000 for a new truck to collect food and food scraps from schools and businesses and manure from farms to turn into compost and for use in digesters to make energy. Some of the food will also go to food banks as Vermont moves toward its ambitious statewide goal of statewide recycling by 2015 and keeping food scraps out of landfills by 2020.

“We could not have imagined this day when we began eight years ago with a plan to create some good soil for our own gardens,” said Lisa Ransom, who along with her husband and parents own Grow Compost. “Our sights are now higher. We see an incredible potential for this work to create jobs.”

Other recipients are:

• $50,000 to Screamin’ Ridge Farm Inc. in East Montpelier for a collaborative processing facility for value-added agricultural projects;

• $75,000 to Vermont Technical College for a dairy processing plant and hub;

• $15,000 to Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield for more efficient caramel equipment to expand production at its goat farm;

• $9,825 to Green Mountain Hardwood in Ripton for a portable sawmill and materials for solar-assisted lumber kiln;

• $38,000 to the Vermont Livestock and Slaughter Processing LLC in Ferrisburgh for a computerized weight data and tracking system for livestock; and

• $20,000 to Wilcox Ice Cream in Manchester for a manufacturing facility.

“Every time we invest in our working landscape in the state of Vermont as we are through this fund — as the entrepreneurs are every day — we actually are making an investment in our economy, we’re making an investment in our ecology, we’re making an investment in undergirding the very culture that makes this place so special and at the end of the day we’re building community in this state that is why we live here,” Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said.

The Working Lands Enterprise Board also leveraged $1.8 million in matching funds.

Portland Press Herald: GMO crop mapping plan hard to swallow

Farmers worry that it could lead to crop sabotage, while others say it’s needed for purity.
Full Article

PORTLAND, Ore. — Before residents in southern Oregon overwhelmingly voted to ban genetically modified crops last month, farmers negotiated for months with a biotech company that grows engineered sugar beets near their fields.

Their goal was to set up a system to peacefully coexist, an online mapping database of fields to help growers minimize cross-pollination between engineered and non-engineered crops.

But the effort between farmers and Swiss company Syngenta failed, leading to the ban.

Last October, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber directed the state’s Department of Agriculture to undertake something far more ambitious than that failed mapping effort – map GMO field locations across the entire state and establish buffer zones and exclusion areas for GE crops.

The move was spurred by several instances of genetic contamination in the region that rendered non-engineered crops unsellable on the export market.

If the mapping goes ahead, Oregon would be the first state to map fields and mandate preventive measures for modified crops. Advocates say Oregon could become a model for the rest of the nation.

The failed mapping effort in southern Oregon illustrates the challenges in reaching a consensus on GMO mapping amid mutual mistrust, a dearth of regulations and intense consumer attention.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture committee has recommended informal neighbor farmer agreements and an insurance system to pay for damages resulting from GMO contamination. But organic farmers are pushing for more disclosure, formal prevention measures and a system to hold GE growers liable for cross-pollination.

Cross-pollination can occur when two crops within the same species flower simultaneously in nearby fields and pollen is carried from one to another via wind, insects, machines or human activity. Genetic engineering is prohibited in U.S. organic crops and many countries restrict imports of engineered products.

“There’s this need, a perceived need and real need in some markets, that they need zero contamination. And that is very difficult to achieve,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, professor of weed science at Oregon State University.

Already, dozens of seed associations across the nation – organizations for farmers who grow crops for seed – do mapping, also called pinning, and set isolation distances among crops to limit cross-pollination.

Some biotech companies participate in such mapping. But the efforts are voluntary and spotty, with locations and dates of planting available only to fellow growers, not officials or the general public.

Monsanto and other biotech outfits that hold patents to GE seeds resist publicly disclosing GMO field locations for competitive reasons. They claim farmers already coexist throughout the U.S. and more monitoring isn’t needed.

They are backed by farmers who plant GMO crops and worry that mapping could lead to crop sabotage and an outright ban on all GMO cultivation, regardless of the likelihood of contamination.

“More mapping would be redundant; we’re already doing it internally, we all work together with other farmers,” said Robert Purdy, who grows GE sugar beets for seed in the Willamette Valley. “If mapping were made public, nothing could stop people from pulling out those sugar beet plants.”

The company that contracts with Purdy for the seeds is a member of the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, which maps more than 1,200 fields as part of a pinning system in northwestern Oregon – meaning Purdy can coordinate what to grow and where with his neighbors.

But organic farmers and other advocates say a mandatory mapping and monitoring system that covers all regions of the state and the nation is badly needed to retain crop and seed purity.

New York Times: Maine Court Fight Pits Farmers Against State and One Another

JUNE 18, 2014
Full Article

BLUE HILL, Me. — When Dan Brown quit his job driving trucks and began to work on his wife’s family homestead here about a decade ago, he was looking forward to a quiet life of farming. He began raising chickens and growing vegetables, and watched happily as a calf named Sprocket thrived. The Browns built a farm stand and began selling unpasteurized milk and eventually other products, like jam and salsa.

But a few years after the Browns began selling, state regulators saw a problem. It is legal to sell unpasteurized milk in Maine, but because Mr. Brown had never purchased a $25 milk distributors’ license and had not properly labeled his milk, the state argued that his farm was breaking the rules and needed to be stopped.


Dan Brown with Sprocket at his farm in Blue Hill, Me. Credit Brian Feulner for The New York Times

On Tuesday, Mr. Brown lost an appeal he had made to the state’s highest court after he fought a lawsuit filed by the State of Maine in 2011. It was a blow to a small but vocal rebellion among farmers and consumers who say that burdensome state regulations are keeping the most local form of food — which, around here, has near-religious significance — away from consumers. The case has pitted the state against some small-scale farmers and stirred a feud between new homesteaders and longtime family farmers.

“This isn’t about Dan Brown or Farmer Brown anymore,” Mr. Brown, 46, said on a recent morning. “They’re telling you that you don’t have the right to come get milk from a farmer.”

Mr. Brown said he was told by a state official in 2006 that he would not need to be licensed or inspected if he sold from his farm and did not advertise. So when state regulators from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry came calling a few years later, he said, he rebuffed them (colorfully, at times), unwilling to spend money on the upgrades he would need to qualify for a milk distributors’ license.

“I don’t need a $40,000 milk room to produce safe, healthy milk,” said Mr. Brown, who asserts that the decision to buy his milk should be left to customers who know him, not to the state.

In 2011, the State of Maine and the commissioner of its Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit against Mr. Brown, alleging that he had sold unpasteurized milk without the proper license and labeling, and operated a food establishment without a license to do so. Last year a judge agreed, ordering him to pay a fine of about $1,000 and to stop selling. Mr. Brown has since filed for bankruptcy.

“It was ridiculous, ludicrous and maddening,” said Florence Reed, a neighbor who directs an organic farming nonprofit and who was a customer of Mr. Brown’s. “Dan’s milk is what they choose to protect us from?”

Last month, Mr. Brown went to the state’s highest court, in Portland, for a hearing on his appeal. He was accompanied by a bevy of supporters who want farm-to-consumer sales to be free of state and federal regulation that, they say, is intended for supply chains that are much more complex than theirs.


Mr. Brown was the subject of a lawsuit for his sale of unpasteurized milk without proper labeling or licensing. Credit Craig Dilger for The New York Times

In 2011, voters made nearby Sedgwick the first town in Maine to pass a so-called food sovereignty ordinance, which grants an exemption from food safety rules to farmers selling directly to consumers. Blue Hill soon followed. There are now 11 towns in Maine with such ordinances, and similar measures have popped up in states including California and Vermont. Pete Kennedy, the director of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, said this was the first litigation involving one of the ordinances, so advocates were watching closely.

“We’ve gotten them out of our bedrooms and our voting booths,” said Betsy Garrold, the head of a group called Food for Maine’s Future, before Mr. Brown’s hearing. She then said they needed to get the state “out of our kitchens.”

Mark Randlett, an assistant attorney general who was arguing the state’s case, said Maine needed to be able to regulate food sales to protect public health. “The department really does support local food sales and these kinds of transactions between farmers and individuals,” but not without rules, Mr. Randlett said last month.

Mr. Brown’s lawyer, David Gary Cox, argued that the state could not change the rules on Mr. Brown, since officials had first told him he would not need a license, and invoked the Blue Hill ordinance in his defense. The judges said that public health ramifications outweighed Mr. Brown’s concerns about obtaining a license and that the ordinances were pre-empted by state and federal law. Advocates of the ordinances said that they expected towns would nevertheless continue to pass them, and that they would seek to pass a state law that would create some regulatory flexibility for small-scale dairy farmers.


Supporters rallied last month for Mr. Brown, who lost an appeal in court on Tuesday. Credit Craig Dilger for The New York Times

“We’ll continue to work with the legislators who have supported us,” said Heather Retberg, 40, a farmer from Penobscot, Me., who sells raw milk without a license to a private buying club. Tuesday’s ruling, she said, “puts us in an uncertain spot again.”

But other farmers were worried that relaxing food safety rules for small-scale farms could endanger the industry, and were frustrated by Mr. Brown’s case and its supporters.

Mr. Brown had been lobstering to make ends meet but stopped so he could tend the farm when his wife, Judy, fell ill the morning after their State Supreme Court hearing. They will focus on homesteading for now, Mr. Brown said, but will pare down, and he will seek other sources of income. On Wednesday, they were planning to make pizza with mozzarella from their milk.

“The farm can change,” Mr. Brown said. “We can survive; it’ll just be more of a farmstead for our life, not our livelihood.”

Burlington Free Press: Shumlin, Ben & Jerry’s team up in GMO fight

Terri Hallenbeck
June 16, 2014
Full Article

James Posig of Burlington was walking his dog down Church Street in Burlington on Monday afternoon when he stopped to watch a rally in front of the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop.

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield and Gov. Peter Shumlin were rallying interest in the state’s Food Fight Fund in defense of its new law requiring labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms. Food manufacturers filed a lawsuit last week challenging the law, which is slated to go into effect in July 2016.

“We now need your help to beat the food manufacturers,” Shumlin said. He later said he planned to contribute to the fund but declined to say how much.

Ben & Jerry’s, which is in the process of transforming all its flavors to non-genetically modified ingredients, renamed its fudge brownie ice cream Food Fight! Fudge Brownie for the month of July. The South Burlington-based ice-cream maker will contribute $1 from each purchase at the Burlington and Waterbury scoop shops to the state’s Food Fight Fund, Greenfield announced.

Scoop shop crews then came out of the shop with trays of Food Fight! Fudge Brownie samples.

Greenfield, who sold the company to Unilever in 2000, said he had no say in the company’s decision to go non-GMO, but “I was thrilled.”

He noted that two years ago he testified on his own behalf before the Legislature in favor of GMO labeling when the company had yet to take a stand on the issue. “Now it’s all in,” he said. “I feel much happier about it.”

A few feet away on Church Street, Posig was enjoying a sample of Food Fight! Fudge Brownie.

“I support it,” he said of the labeling law. “Everything should be disclosed.”

The fund, which was unveiled at the May 8 bill signing, had raised about $18,000 by the end of last week. Attorney General Bill Sorrell has estimated a lawsuit could cost up to $8 million.

“We want to raise as much as we can,” Shumlin said of the fund. “The rest we’ll do the old-fashioned way. We don’t expect to raise the whole amount.”

Vermont Attorney General’s GE Food Labeling Rule Questionnaire

The Attorney General has begun the process of drafting rules that will facilitate implementation of the newly signed VT GMO labeling law. Until the end of June, the Attorney General will begin soliciting input from the public and those who will be affected by the rules, including food processors, grocers and other retailers, the agricultural community, and consumers.

For more information, and to submit your input, visit this page.

06/12 Update: Celebrating Cycles & Transitions

 In this update:

Message from The Director
Dear Members & Friends:

As we approach the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year, here at the Rural Vermont office, we’re savoring a brief “lull” in our usually hectic schedule before we plunge into our outreach and organizing work this summer.

We’ve given the office a thorough cleaning, we’re taking stock of what materials and resources we need and, with our newly expanded Board of Directors, are beginning to talk about and plan for some big, hairy, audacious goals as we head toward our 30th anniversary in 2015.
I am thrilled to report that, with your help, we not only met but exceeded the fundraising and membership recruitment goals of $5,000 and 50 new members for May that we announced at our Annual Celebration. Between May 1 and 31, we raised $7,518 and welcomed 61 new members to our community. We therefore met the challenge that our friends at presented to us with their $5,000 grant. Our sincere thanks to everyone who participated in helping us reach our goals!
For those of you who are still biding your time, here’s a quick reminder of the big, hairy, audacious goal we’ve set for ourselves between now and next year’s Annual Celebration: Raise $60,000 in new contributions and grow Rural Vermont to 1000 members strong.

Finally, it is with bittersweet feelings that I share a significant transition within our staff. Robb Kidd, who has served as Rural Vermont’s organizer since 2010 (and also as an intern in 2007) will be leaving at the end of June. We are all sad to lose him (and his constant companion Ella T. Dogg) from our team but we are also happy for his new professional opportunity. In early July, Robb will begin his work as the Vermont organizer for the Sierra Club. Fortunately this means he’s not leaving Vermont, or even Montpelier, so we look forward to staying in touch.

And I’m looking forward to being in touch with many of you in my travels this summer!

Happy Summer Solstice!


P.S. Rural Vermont is honored that Edible Green Mountains has designated us the recipient of a $500 prize if the Vermont publication wins a cover contest sponsored by Edible Feast. The winner will be chosen based upon the number of social shares – help them and help us by sharing this link far and wide before 12pm on July 1st! Thanks.

Raw Milk Bill Becomes Law
Delivery to Farmers’ Markets can begin on July 1st!   

On Tuesday, May 27th,  Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed S.70, now Act 149, into law.  We are discussing ideas for how to publicly celebrate once the law goes into effect on July 1st. Stay tuned for details on this!

After hearing testimony from Vermont farmers and national experts, as well as opponents from the VT Veterinary Medical Association, among others, the Legislature made improvements to the current raw milk law, including authorizing the delivery of raw milk to farmers’ markets for Tier 2 producers.

Although Act 149 makes only modest improvements in providing greater access to raw milk, the process of taking testimony and debating the bill significantly raised the profile of raw milk among legislators and increased the level of respect for the farmers who produce this highly valued product.

Act 149 will provide the following improvements in access to raw milk:

  • As of July 1, 2014, Tier 2 raw milk producers will be able to deliver raw milk to existing customers* at farmers’ markets where they are a vendor.
  • Act 149 changes the daily sales limit to an aggregate weekly limit for both Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers, providing greater flexibility for farmers and convenience for customers. There are some additional requirements regarding cold storage capacity and protection of shelf life.
  • Act 149 also clarifies that raw milk producers need only provide the “opportunity” for customers to take a tour of their farm.

*Existing customer means someone who has previously made a visit to the farm to make their initial purchase of raw milk.

For more details about these changes to the law, read Rural Vermont’s Fact Sheet on Act 149. You can also read our

Again, please note that this law does not go into effect until July 1, 2014.

Rural Vermont is very interested in providing support to those farmers who will be taking advantage of this new opportunity. If you’ll be delivering to farmers’ markets, or even if you’re just considering it, let us know! Please email or call Shelby at (802) 223-7222. 

BREAKING NEWS: Grocery Manufacturers Association files their lawsuit against Vermont today – details to follow.

GMO Labeling Law Rule Making Begins
As you know, the Governor signed Vermont’s GMO labeling law on May 8, and it will take effect on July 1, 2016. The threat of a lawsuit challenging our law has become a promise from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but that lawsuit has yet to be filed.

As part of the VT Right to Know Coalition, we are doing everything we can to ensure we mount the strongest defense possible, but we also have work to do to ensure Vermont’s GMO Labeling law is implemented effectively. The Attorney General has begun the process of creating rules for Vermont’s labeling law, and we want to make sure your voice is heard in this public process.

Please take a moment to fill out this survey from the Attorney General. The Attorney General is accepting responses to this survey through June 30. You can also submit comments directly to the Attorney General at

There will be additional formal opportunities for public comment when the Attorney General publishes draft rules later this year. We will keep you informed of those opportunities when they are announced.

After you have completed the survey, please make sure to check out the Vermont Food Fight Fund and add your support. Donations to the VT Food Fight Fund, which was established by the Governor’s office, will help Vermont implement and administer our new law, and mount a powerful defense against promised lawsuits. Anyone can donate in any amount. Widespread participation by Vermonters is crucial to sending a strong message of solidarity in opposition to the corporations who don’t want you to know what’s in your food.


We have learned that the EPA has extended, UNTIL JUNE 30th, the public comment period on Dow Chemical’s application for approval to use the highly toxic herbicide 2,4-D on GMO corn and canola. 2,4-D, also known as Enlist Duo, is a different formulation of glyphosate which has already become ubiquitous in our environment. You can read a recent news story here about public concern over glyphosate.

Your voice is needed to stop this additional assault on our soil, water and air by the industrial food complex. Just say NO to 2,4-D.  You can read the EPA’s Fact Sheet on Dow’s application and you can  SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS through the EPA’s public comment page – you may need to look for EPA docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0195. If you have questions, please contact Andrea.

Thanks for taking action! 

Hemp Makes History – Again 

Back in February, section 7606 of the Farm Bill authorized the cultivation of hemp for research purposes by State Departments of Agriculture or institutions of Higher Education in states with pro-hemp laws. Although one of  the University of Vermont’s agronomists, Heather Darby, was very interested in starting a research program, her plans were halted for lack of certainty on legally accessing hemp seeds.

Simply put, UVM officials were uncomfortable because the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Homeland Security have not been cooperative with states that are implementing pro-hemp laws. In Kentucky, Agriculture officials were only successful in gaining the reluctant cooperation of the DEA after the threat of an impending lawsuit, delay of imported seeds, and an agreement to complying with onerous permits.

Last week, Senator Leahy testified to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations subcommittee in favor of an amendment (sponsored by Merkley-OR and McConnell-KY) that would restrict the DEA from using funds to interfere with a state’s ability to import hemp seeds. Click here to hear Senator Leahy speak in favor of hemp (at the 3:50 mark). The subcommittee passed the amendment by a vote of 22-7 with bi-partisan support.

The bill still needs to be voted on by the entire Senate, and then the differences between the Senate and House versions will need to be hashed out in a conference committee. The House has already passed a similar amendment (Masse-KY), plus another hemp amendment (Bonamici-OR) that would limit the Department of Justice from spending money on blocking states from implementing their pro-hemp legislation.

Please send a message of thanks to Senator Leahy for his support and encourage his continued dedication. Stay tuned as we cultivate more Hemp History!

And speaking of Hemp History, Rural Vermont extends a special thanks to all those who attended our Hemp History Week Event at the Upper Valley Food Coop last week. It is clear that Vermonters are excited to grow hemp! We were thrilled to share the film Bringing it Home (now available in the Rural Vermont Library) and honored to be accompanied by long-time hemp activist Will Allen of Cedar Circle Farm.

Congratulations to Jon Hough of West Lebanon, winner of Hemp Bound (Book courtesy of Chelsea Green), and Don Faulkner of Montpelier, winner of the Rural Vermont Hemp Bag (courtesy of Hemp Power Bags).

What Do You Think?  

This summer, Rural Vermont will be working with Place Creative Company and our member/farmer/graphic designer Ryan Hayes to redesign our communications materials. We’re starting to play around with some new ideas for graphics. The one below is a membership recruitment ad that you will see in a variety of food and farming publications this summer like Local Banquet and NOFA’S Farm & Food guide.  

Capturing Rural Vermont as an organization and the work we do in compelling images and words is a HUGE challenge and we want to make sure we get it right. To help us do that, we’ll be asking for your thoughts as we work through this creative process. SO…

AND…If the ad is working, then you’ll certainly want to become a member or make a special contribution right here, right now!

Upcoming Educational Opportunities


Sudbury Community Hall & Mountain Meadows Farm

Central Vermont’s Annual Skill Share Party
at All Together Now in East Montpelier

06/27 Edible Forest Gardens and Commercial Food Forestry, an Evening with Eric Toensmeier

Shelburne Farms, Shelburne

Rural Vermont maintains a broader listing of events on our websiteContact Mollie Wills for information about publicizing your event (we cannot guarantee posting all events due to time and space constraints).


CALL – (802) 223-7222
WRITE or VISIT: Rural Vermont, 15 Barre Street, Montpelier, Vt 05602

06/13 ACTION ALERT: Rally to Defend Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law

WHEN: Monday June 16, 2014 at 2:00PM

WHERE: Church Street, Burlington
- in front of the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop
WHO: Vermonters who care about what’s in their food

Rural Vermont, a founding member of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition, invites everyone who cares about your right to know what’s in your food to join us for a rally in support of Vermont as we defend our new GMO Labeling Law.

Yesterday, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and a host of their industrial food corporate allies filed a lawsuit in federal court calling for Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law to be struck down.

The rally is being organized collaboratively by Ben & Jerry’s, the Governor’s Office, and the Vermont Right to Know Coalition. The goal of the rally is to demonstrate broad support for Vermont’s new GMO Labeling Law and to promote the Vermont Food Fight Fund.

Ben & Jerry’s will unveil a new ice cream flavor that will help support the VT Food Fight Fund and of course, free samples will be available.

The weather on Monday is supposed to be great so bring your friends and family, bring a homemade sign, and show your support for the right to know what’s in your food. Help us send a powerful message to the industrial food system that Vermont will not be bullied.

For more information contact Andrea
  or call the Rural Vermont office 223-7222
and please help spread the word!


Rural Education Action Project | 802-223-7222 | |
15 Barre Street
Suite 2
Montpelier, VT 05602

June 16th Rally to Defend Vermont’s New GMO Labeling Law

GMO Lawsuit Graphic with VTRTKMonday June 16, 2014 at 2:00PM
Church Street, Burlington, in front of the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop

Rural Vermont, a founding member of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition, invites everyone who cares about your right to know what’s in your food to join us for a rally in support of Vermont as we defend our new GMO Labeling Law.

Yesterday, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and a host of their industrial food corporate allies filed a lawsuit in federal court calling for Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law to be struck down.

The rally is being organized collaboratively by Ben & Jerry’s, the Governor’s Office, and the Vermont Right to Know Coalition. The goal of the rally is to demonstrate broad support for Vermont’s new GMO Labeling Law and to promote the Vermont Food Fight Fund.

Ben & Jerry’s will unveil a new ice cream flavor that will help support the VT Food Fight Fund and of course, free samples will be available.

The weather on Monday is supposed to be great so bring your friends and family, bring a homemade sign, and show your support for the right to know what’s in your food. Help us send a powerful message to the industrial food system that Vermont will not be bullied. For more information, call (802) 223-7222.

Burlington Free Press: Trade groups sue VT over GMO labeling law

June 13, 2014
Full Article

Four national organizations whose members would be affected by Vermont’s new labeling law for genetically engineered foods filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court challenging the measure’s constitutionality.

“Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law — Act 120 — is a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement about the lawsuit.

“Act 120 exceeds the state’s authority under the United States Constitution and in light of this GMA has filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont seeking to enjoin this senseless mandate.”

The Legislature passed the labeling law in April, and Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill in May. The labeling requirements would take effect in two years: July 1, 2016.

Lawmakers, the governor and the attorney general expected the law to be challenged in court. Trade groups had promised to fight the law in court.

READ THE LAWSUIT: PDF: Lawsuit vs. Vermont GMO law

Attorney General William Sorrell noted Thursday he had advised lawmakers as they deliberated that the law would invite a lawsuit from those affected “and it would be a heck of a fight, but we would zealously defend the law.”

“We have been gearing up,” Sorrell said when reached Thursday afternoon in New York City. His office had yet to be served with the complaint.

The statement from the Grocery Manufacturers Association summarizes the grievances of the four plaintiff organizations: GMA, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Real progress, big questions after GMO law

“Act 120 imposes burdensome new speech requirements — and restrictions — that will affect, by Vermont’s count, eight out of every ten foods at the grocery store,” the GMA said. “Yet Vermont has effectively conceded this law has no basis in health, safety, or science. That is why a number of product categories, including milk, meat, restaurant items and alcohol, are exempt from the law. This means that many foods containing GMO ingredients will not actually disclose that fact.

“The First Amendment dictates that when speech is involved, Vermont policymakers cannot merely act as a pass-through for the fads and controversies of the day,” the association continued. “It must point to a truly ‘governmental’ interest, not just a political one.”

The groups added that the federal government has the sole authority over regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce, and the U.S. Constitution prohibits Vermont from doing so.

“The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have both the mandate and expertise to incorporate the views of all the stakeholders at each link in the chain from farm to fork,” the association said.

The Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition, which lobbied for the law, argued that labeling would bring transparency to the information consumers would have about their food.

“The people of Vermont have said loud and clear they have a right to know what is in their food,” said Falko Schilling, consumer protection advocate with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Schilling said lawmakers determined there was a lack of consensus about the safety of genetically engineered foods “so putting labels on is a reasonable and prudent thing so people can decide for themselves.”

The lawsuit, filed at U.S. District Court in Burlington, contends the Food and Drug Administration has “confirmed the safety of more than 100 genetically engineered crops for human consumption” since 1994.

The court complaint suggests the motivation for the new mandate is to respond to public-opinion polling “showing a consumer desire for labeling,” but notes the law exempts dairy and restaurants, creating big gaps on the information consumers will have if they are concerned about genetically modified foods.

The lawsuit argues the state needs a compelling interest to restrict information that food manufacturers provide about their products. But at the same time, the complaint states that the law indicates private dollars should be tapped first for any legal battles. The measure caps state funding at $1.5 million.

The lawsuit has drawn attention from national organization on the other side of the issue from the four plaintiffs.

Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, defended the Vermont law, saying 60 other countries either have banned GMOs or require mandatory labeling of foods that contain them.

Cummins added, “Every U.S. citizen should be concerned when a multi-billion dollar corporate lobbying group sues in federal court to overturn a state’s right to govern for the health and safety of its citizens.” He called the lawsuit was a way to intimidate other states considering labeling laws.

Forbes: FDA Backs Down In Fight Over Aged Cheese

Greg McNeal
Full Article

The FDA is backing away (at least temporarily) from a policy statement that declared cheese makers would no longer be able to age their cheese on wooden boards. The statement caused outrage in the artisan cheese community and consumers quickly came to the aid of the industry signing onto a petition and expressing their outrage through social media. The American Cheese Society released a position statement, and it was clear that the industry was prepared to fight back if the FDA did not change its position.

Today, the FDA claimed that it in fact had not issued a new policy, they stated:

“The FDA does not have a new policy banning the use of wooden shelves in cheese-making, nor is there any FSMA requirement in effect that addresses this issue. Moreover, the FDA has not taken any enforcement action based solely on the use of wooden shelves.

In the interest of public health, the FDA’s current regulations state that utensils and other surfaces that contact food must be “adequately cleanable” and properly maintained. Historically, the FDA has expressed concern about whether wood meets this requirement and has noted these concerns in inspectional findings. FDA is always open to evidence that shows that wood can be safely used for specific purposes, such as aging cheese.

The FDA will engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.”

Good for the FDA for backing down. Although it’s unfortunate that they are dodging accountability by claiming they did not change their policy. The American Cheese Society released a .PDF version of the statement by FDA’s Branch Chief Monica Metz, the chief official responsible for food safety issues involving cheese. In that document she stated

The use of wooden shelves, rough or otherwise, for cheese ripening does not conform to cGMP requirements, which require that “all plant equipment and utensils shall be so designed and of such material and workmanship as to be adequately cleanable, and shall be properly maintained.” 21 CFR 110.40(a). Wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized. The porous structure of wood enables it to absorb and retain bacteria, therefore bacteria generally colonize not only the surface but also the inside layers of wood. The shelves or boards used for aging make direct contact with finished products; hence they could be a potential source of pathogenic microorganisms in the finished products.

So let’s consider this a clarification, of their earlier clarification, which improperly characterized their official policy. Either way it’s good news.

This is also a lesson for people in other regulated industries. When government officials make pronouncements that don’t seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that people’s voices can be heard.

While this is clearly a victory for the cheese industry, nothing is stopping the FDA from promulgating new regulations, so cheese makers will need to stay pay attention to what the FDA does next. FDA spokesperson Lauren Sucher signaled as much when she stated the agency would “engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving.” That sounds like the FDA is planning to make some new regulations, and the engagement will likely come through the notice and comment rule-making process I described here.