Author Archives: Mollie

12/03-12/05 2014 National Young Farmers Conference

Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture
630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY


Every December, hundreds of beginning farmers from across the United States gather at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture to learn from agricultural luminaries, peers, and advocacy organizations at the National Young Farmers Conference: Reviving the Culture of Agriculture. On December 3-5, 2014, Stone Barns Center will host the 7th annual National Young Farmers Conference, providing participants with access to inspiring keynotes and unique workshops that address soil science, technical skills, agricultural policy, farm business management, conservation and more.

Pre-Conference: Agroecology & Climate Change  

On December 3, 2014 Stone Barns Center will host a day of workshops and conversations with scientists, farmers and policy experts to explore issues related to agriculture and climate change, with a focus on mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Consultation Sessions

Conference attendees will have the opportunity to sign up for small group consulting sessions with experts in farm financing, food law, farm business planning, and more. 

Workshop and consultant proposals are due June 15. For more information, visit the Virtual Grange:\

Merced Sun-Star: Vermont plans to inspect small farms for pollution

Associated Press
May 24, 2014
Full Article

Read more here:

— As Vermont works to reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution that ends up in Lake Champlain, the state wants to make sure small farms are doing their part, too.

A newly hired inspector is collecting data about small, mostly dairy farms in Franklin County, where toxic algae blooms have turned up in Missisquoi Bay, and plans to visit some of them this summer to suggest how they can reduce pollution in waterways and point them to technical and financial help to solve any problems.

“I think it’s important for agencies like ours to demonstrate that, yes, there is scrutiny, but there is also assistance and education,” said John Roberts, a former dairy farmer who will do the inspections. “Many of the solutions to this problem are not massive construction of storage or systems or something like that, but they’re more management changes.”

Some of those solutions could include changing where farmers store their manure or planting cover crops in the fall to keep nutrients and soil in place. He’s already noticed some problems on his visits to more than 100 farms in Franklin County since January.

Moving frozen manure was a challenge for some farmers during the long winter and showed some areas that need improvement, he said. Sometimes it gets so cold — and the snow so deep — that farmers can’t get their tractors out to move the manure and it ends up stacked in the wrong places, Roberts said.

Roberts has been visiting farms collecting basic information to create a database and get the word out that farmers are required to comply with the state’s accepted agricultural practices aimed at conserving natural resources and reducing pollution through improved farming techniques.

Medium-sized farms with 200 or more animals or large farms with 700 or more animals are required to get a water quality permit, but the oversight and supervision of small farmers has mostly been driven by complaints, Roberts said.

As Vermont comes up with a plan to meet a revised cap on the maximum amount of phosphorus allowed in Lake Champlain, as required by federal law, a group of farmers and technical service providers has been working on recommendations to address water quality problems at farms.

“One of the things that came up amongst all these different farmers was a level-playing field because right now, small farms are regulated differently than medium and large farms are,” said Laura DiPietro, the agricultural water quality policy and operations manager for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

During his visits, Roberts informs farmers that he’ll return to do an inspection and to discuss his observations. He will then write a report and ask the farmer to respond within 30 days with a plan for fixing any problems. Any farmer who doesn’t comply could face fines, but “there are quite a few hurdles that have to be crossed before then,” he said.

Ralph McNall, president of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery Inc., which includes 500 farms, says he has no problem with the inspections as long as the inspector is reasonable and doesn’t ask the farmers to do something unaffordable.

Read more here:

05/28 Legislative Review

 In this update:

Message from The Director
Dear Members & Friends:

Many, many thanks to everyone who came to our Annual Celebration two weeks ago, particularly our deep gratitude to our Board, all the volunteers and so many members and friends in the Chester area who helped make the event such a success. I hope you’ll take some time to view all of Matt Hogan’s great photos from the event both here and on our website and Facebook page.

This update has a ton of information about the Celebration, a critical fundraising and membership goal we’re trying to achieve by the end of the week, as well as a recap of the legislative session that just ended (phew!).

I’m now looking forward to my favorite part of my job, which is hitting the road to visit with you and talk to new people about Rural Vermont. If you have a group of friends and neighbors that you think we should talk to please let me know.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a poem I recently came across that seems very fitting for this late arriving spring.

Enjoy and I hope to see you soon!



Just as we lose hope
she ambles in,
a late guest
dragging her hem
of wildflowers,
her torn
veil of mist,
of light rain,
her dandelion
in our ears;
and we forgive her,
turning from
chilly winter
we throw off
our faithful
and open
our arms.


29th Annual Celebration was a Night to Remember!
All photos by Matt Hogan of M.P. Hogan Photography.
See more photos (two albums) from the event here.
Jon Wright & Friends leading a rousing rendition of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer”

With almost 200 guests filling the American Legion hall to bursting, Rural Vermont’s 29th Annual Celebration was filled with great food, lively conversation, music, moving stories about farm life, and an outpouring of support for our work. Thank you to everyone who joined us for this awesome event, and to everyone who supported us by contributing products, services, time, and resources! It paid off — in the words of member Cara Taussig, “I felt so proud to be part of Rural Vermont tonight. The work we are doing is invaluable & critical.”

As always, Rural Vermont’s board and staff tremendously enjoyed this incredible opportunity to meet and greet so many members and friends. We extend a warm welcome to our newest Board members (you can read more about them here) Hayden Boska of Diggers’ Mirth Farm Collective in Burlington, Graham Unangst-Rufenacht of East Montpelier, Katie Spring & Edge Fuentes of Goodheart Farmstead in Worcester, Katherine Fanelli & Peter Burmeister of Burelli Farm in Berlin, and Cynthia & Rich Larson of The Larson Farm in Wells. The Larsons’ were also the recipients of the annual Jack Starr activism award for their leadership in our raw milk campaign.

Members and friends enjoying conversation and dinner

Chester local Lisa Kaiman of Jersey Girls Dairy was honored with our new “Golden Spoon” award (for the activist most willing to “stir the pot”). In her acceptance remarks, she made the crowd chuckle when she said she would use one side of the spoon to continue feeding her community and the other side to smack anyone standing in the way!

In the words of member Kari Storm, “The storytelling portion was the best and reminded me again why I love Vermont and the people who work it.” For the main program of the night, three of Rural Vermont’s board members took the stage to share their perspectives about real food and the valued traditions in their homes and communities.

Lisa McCrory

Lisa McCrory of Earthwise Farm & Forest in Bethel spoke about bringing intimacy to the food that we eat, which she defined as making an investment of emotion and spirit in the land they cultivate, the crops they grow, and the animals that they feed and care for. They take great pleasure in then sharing the food they produce with people who want to be part of their food’s story.

Tamara Martin

Tamara Martin of Chandler Pond Farm in Wheelock spoke of how bartering is a way of life for her family and in her community, and her gratitude for the important lessons and values that her children have learned as a result of witnessing these neighborly exchanges on a daily basis.

Ben Hewitt

Ben Hewitt of Fat of the Land Farm in Cabot shared his reflections on why butchering pigs in his kitchen is important. He spoke passionately about the value of learning and carrying forward this crucial skill which is perilously close to extinction, and how sharing this process with friends and neighbors is helping his family reclaim a small but significant piece of their heritage as Vermonters.

If you would like to read their stories or share them with others, you can find them here .

GoalAlso at the Celebration, Rural Vermont announced a fundraising and membership goal in anticipation of our 30th anniversary which is coming up in 2015, as well as a $5,000 challenge grant provided by our friends at We hope to raise $60,000 in new funds in the coming year, and increase our membership from roughly 750 to 1000 strong.

We want to get this campaign off to a good, strong start by raising $5,000 to meet the match and by adding 50 new members by the end of May. Thanks to many of the folks who attended and donated at the Annual Celebration, we are happy to report that we are very close to reaching our goals for May!

Since the beginning of the month, Rural Vermont has raised $4,619 and welcomed 45 new members, which puts us just $381 and 5 members shy of our goals. This means we have until Saturday at midnight of this week to raise $381 and add five new members – with your help we can do this!  

If we’re successful in meeting these goals, we will not only be starting off our year-long campaign on the right foot, but has pledged an additional $5,000 grant to be delivered this fall.

United for REAL FOOD!

Rural Vermont has the guts. We have the experience. We just need the power of YOU!

Please show your support for Rural Vermont and REAL FOOD – and help us reach our goals for May by donating online here or by mailing your check (soon!) to Rural Vermont, 15 Barre St., Suite 2, Montpelier VT 05602.

NOTE: All contributions received by midnight or postmarked by May 31st will be counted toward our goal. 
Board member Doug Flack
building our people power!

And please help us spread the word! The next time you cross paths with a neighbor, friend, or local business who you feel should be a member of Rural Vermont, please recruit them on our behalf. Rural Vermont is fueled by people power, and the most effective way to bring more people into our network is for them to be recruited by people they know.


Where We Stand: Legislative Session Re-Cap
For all the gory details on these legislative issues please see our 2014 Legislative Summary.
Raw Milk:
After a lot of hard work and terrific support from our Raw Milk Strategic Leadership Team and other raw milk producers, we raised the profile and the level of respect for raw milk’s role in Vermont’s agricultural landscape and economy.

As a result, beginning on July 1, 2014, Tier 2 producers will be able to deliver raw milk to farmers’ markets where they are a vendor. The bill also changes the daily sales limit to a weekly limit for both Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers creating more flexibility for farmers and their customers. For complete details on the changes to the raw milk law made in S.70 please see our updated factsheet. For more general information about the current law for both Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers see our updated “cheat sheet.”

This summer we plan to continue our outreach to raw milk producers and their customers to identify technical assistance needs and continue to build public awareness of this safe nutritious farm fresh food. For questions, more information, or to get involved please contact Rural Vermont’s organizer, Robb Kidd.
GMO Food Labeling:
On May 8th, Governor Shumlin signed Vermont’s first in the nation, “no-strings-attached” GMO Food Labeling bill into law. This is a huge victory for everyone who eats and wouldn’t have been possible without the enormous support of citizens and dedicated activists during the past three legislative sessions. THANK YOU to everyone who worked so hard to achieve this important step in protecting our right to choose the food that supports our values.

The VT Right to Know Coalition is continuing its work in several areas:   

- We are assembling all the lessons we learned and resources we gathered to share with the other states that are working GMO labeling bills.
- We will be developing materials to help Vermont citizens participate in the Attorney General’s rule-making process to implement the GMO Labeling law. You can get on the AG’s list for updates on the rule-making process here.
– We are supporting the effort to raise money to support implementation and defense of the law through the Vermont Food Fight Fund that Gov. Shumlin announced when he signed the bill.

With a lawsuit from the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association expected to be filed any day now, what we need is for everyone who supported Vermont’s GMO Labeling bill to give whatever amount you can to help ensure we win this one in the courts as well as in the State House.

This summer Rural Vermont’s Board and staff will be developing plans for our next steps in addressing the broader concerns related to GMOs and corporate control of our food system. For questions, more information or to get involved, please contact Andrea Stander.  

Compost Taxation:
After a torturous trip through the Senate side of the State House, the important elements of this bill did get passed as part of the annual Misc. Tax Bill. The key victory is that compost and other soil amendments sold in bulk will no longer be subject to sales tax. See our 2014 Legislative Summary for more details. Many thanks to Pat Sagui and the members of the Composting Association of Vermont as well as Rep. Will Stevens for shepherding this important bill successfully through the “sausage factory.”   
Misc. Agriculture Bill:
This too is an annual bill which ostensibly contains a variety of relatively minor corrections or updates to existing agricultural laws. This year it became what is often called a “Christmas tree bill” as bits and pieces from other larger bills (that were doomed to fall by the wayside in the final days of the session) were tacked on to this bill. You can read the bill and a summary of provisions that we feel are of most interest to Rural Vermont members in our 2014 Legislative Summary.  
Water Quality:
Vermont’s struggle to protect and improve the quality of our state waters was a major issue of discussion in the State House during this session. Regrettably, due to perennial state budget constraints and ongoing issues with the federal EPA over progress on cleaning up Lake Champlain, very little in the way of changes to state policy was passed. You can read about what did make it into law in our 2014 Legislative Summary. We expect that how regulation of “small” farms may change as part of the state’s efforts to address widespread problems with water quality will be an issue we need to follow closely in the coming year. If you are interested in this issue, have questions or would like to get involved, please contact Andrea Stander.  
Although there was no new state legislative action on Hemp this session there has been action at the federal level. You can read the latest update here.
HempEventSpecial Event:
Celebrate Hemp History Week on June 4 at the Upper Valley Food Coop, in White River Junction at 5:30pm. Join Rural Vermont for a showing of “Bringing it Home.” Rural Vermont Organizer Robb Kidd will present the latest hemp updates, and special guest Will Allen, Manager of Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford will tell his personal hemp advocacy stories (including his story about planting hemp on the lawn of DEA Headquarters in 2009).

For more information please contact Robb Kidd or RSVP on the Facebook Hemp event page .


FYI – Upcoming Educational Opportunities


A Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network webinar
1-2pm Eastern Time Free and open to the public

Sudbury Community Hall & Mountain Meadows Farm

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

WHAS11: DEA backs down; releasing hemp seeds to Ky. Agriculture Dept.

by Joe Arnold
May 13, 2014
Full Article & Video

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – There has been an apparent breakthrough in the battle over industrial hemp seeds seized by customs agents in Louisville.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Drug Enforcement Administration has decided to back down and release the seeds for a hemp pilot project.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer planned to take the DEA to federal court Wednesday to force it to follow a new federal law.

According to Comer, the DEA wanted to attach various conditions before it would even consider handing over the industrial hemp seeds.

Now the two sides have agreed on one condition.

“The first phone call – it was just an utter disregard for federal legislation, the Farm Bill,” Comer said.

By the last phone call between the DEA and the Kentucky Agriculture Department on Tuesday, the two sides appear to have reached an agreement that by the end f the week it will release to agriculture officials a 250-pound shipment of hemp seeds being held by customs agents.

An agriculture department official says the DEA will only require the Agriculture Department to apply for an import permit, a process the DEA pledges to expedite so that the seeds can be released by the end of the week.

“The farm bull clearly states that we have the authority in Kentucky because we passed state regulatory framework, to be able to conduct pilot projects with research universities like the University of Kentucky,” Comer said.

It appears to be a better resolution than in 1996, when actor Woody Harrelson was arrested in rural Kentucky for ceremoniously planting four hemp seeds.

This Friday, Comer plans to join hemp supporters in rural Kentucky again to plant hemp seeds to usher in the rebirth of a cash crop outlawed here since 1937 because it looked similar to marijuana.


Grist: Oregon county bans GMO crops

By Nathanael Johnson
May 21, 2014
Full Article

Voters in Jackson County, Oregon, passed a measure Tuesday prohibiting farmers from growing genetically engineered plants. Farmers had spearheaded the initiative, according to the Associated Press:

The effort to ban GMOs in Jackson County started two years ago when organic farmers learned the Swiss company Syngenta was growing sugar beet seed in local fields that was genetically altered to resist the popular weed killer Roundup. They wanted to protect their crops from being cross-pollinated by genetically modified ones.

Though seed companies spent nearly $1 million campaigning against it, the measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin. The Earth Island Journal has some on-the-ground color from farmers explaining why they pushed for the ban:

“If we saved our own seed like we want to, then we would be growing GMO beets and chard. It would be contaminated with that pollen,” said [Elise] Higley, who also serves as director of Our Family Farms Coalition, the primary group supporting measure 15-119. “It’s a real economic risk for farmers having those GMO crops so close by.”

On the other hand, the Oregonian points out that the defense of property rights cuts both ways:

“Fundamentally, growers can choose what crops they grow,” said Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, which opposes the Jackson County measure. “This would really be the first example where one set of growers — those who don’t like GM crops — are going to tell all growers that they can and can’t grow certain crops in Jackson County.

A similar measure is expected to pass in Josephine County, just to the east. But the situation there is slightly different. That’s because last year Oregon passed a law that prevents local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops.

Jackson County is exempt from this law because its measure was already pending. Not so in Josephine County. If the measure becomes law there, it will almost certainly be challenged in the courts.

WCSH: Food sovereignty fight taken to Maine’s highest court

By Tim Goff
May 13, 2014
Full Article and Video

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A fight over local control and food sovereignty that began in the fields of Blue Hill more than two and a half years ago, spilled over into the state’s highest court on Tuesday.

Justices with the Maine Judicial Supreme Court heard arguments from lawyers representing Dan Brown, a small farmer fighting against sanctions imposed by the Maine Department of Agriculture that stem from his sale of raw milk on his farm without a license.

“I can’t give my neighbor a half gallon of milk. This is crazy talk,” exclaimed Brown as he stood outside the Cumberland County Courthouse.

Brown says it was about ten years ago when he and his wife, Judy, decided to start a small farm operation on their land at their home in Blue Hill. They had a handful of chickens and added a couple of cows.

“I loved it. It was a way of life,” said Brown.

They were producing more milk than they could consume, so Brown says he approached the state to see if they could sell the raw, unpasteurized milk, he was told he could on his farm as long as he didn’t advertise he was doing it.

“I was following their directions,” he explained. “I asked them what can I do? Where can I sell my milk? ‘If you sell from your farm, we don’t need to know you’,” he says he was told.

For several years he says they’re weren’t any problems. His operation grew to roughly 300 chickens and eight cows. He invested money in a farm stand and started making cheese and other products along with selling vegetables. Brown says he never worked so hard in his life, or was as content working as when he was fixing things on the farm.

In 2011, an inspector with the state paid his farm a visit. Brown says he was told he needed to make numerous improvements to comply with state regulations. He estimates it would have cost between $20,000 and $60,000 to meet the requirements.

“To produce a couple gallons a day, how could you ever recoup that?” he wondered. “It is the infrastructure needed to produce the milk to fall under a commercial dairy license.”

Brown closed his doors for about a week. Other farmers in the area reached out to him and told him the laws had not changed and that he should continue operating as he had been. So he reopened and was soon sued by the state.

Dan Brown says paying for the required license was never the issue, but the amount of money he would have had to invest to build the infrastructure to fall under a commercial dairy license was beyond his capabilities and something he was not interested in doing.

“This is about more than one man, milking one cow and selling its milk to his neighbor,” stated State Representative Brian Jones, at a rally before Brown’s hearing outside the courthouse. “We support the right of communities to determine how they will manage the production and distribution of food among themselves and the rights of individuals to determine what foods they will eat.”

Jones joined Brown and roughly two dozen of Brown’s supporters on the courthouse steps before his case was heard. All of them support local food sovereignty ordinances like the one passed in Blue Hill back in 2011. The ordinances seek to protect small scale food producers from having to comply with state and federal regulations and inspections.

“I am here because I believe food raised by a community, for a community, within a community should be regulated by that community,” said Heather Rhetberg, who traveled to Portland from her farm in Penobscot to show her support for Brown.

Eleven Maine towns have passed food sovereignty ordinances in recent years in an effort to support their local economies and keep them in business supplying their friends and neighbors with food grown or made in their own backyards.

Gary Cox, a lawyer with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund traveled from Ohio to Maine to represent Brown before the Supreme Court. He says if Brown is successful in his appeal it will “be a huge victory for food sovereignty”.

The state, which imposed a fine of $1000 on Brown for selling raw milk without a license, believes state and federal statutes supersede local ordinances.

“The department really does support local food sales and these kinds of transactions between farmers and individuals,” stated Randlett. “But, again as I pointed out, it can’t be without rules.”

The Maine Judicial Supreme Court is expected to issue its findings in the coming weeks.

Thank You, Supporters!

Thank you to everyone who came out for Rural Vermont’s 29th Annual Celebration! It was a great success. All photos by Matt Hogan of M P Hogan Photography.

Couldn’t make it to the event? Get a taste and read the Farmer Stories here.

05/13 Alert: You’re Invited!

 In this update:

Message from The Director
Dear Members & Friends:

I can’t tell you how happy I am that the legislators have gone home. Don’t get me wrong, my time in the State House this session has generally only served to strengthen my belief that, here in Vermont at least, we still have a functioning democracy. But four months is ENOUGH!

I’m looking forward to collecting all my thoughts and notes, gathering all the relevant documents and giving you a more complete picture of what was accomplished under the Dome this biennium and how we believe it will affect farmers, their customers and the land that sustains us. Watch for a thorough legislative report next week.

BUT…Right now all I want to do is get together with a whole bunch of the good people that make up the Rural Vermont community and C E L E B R A T E!

I look forward to greeting as many of you as possible this Thursday night, 6-9PM at our Annual Celebration in Chester, VT. All the details are below.


P.S.  If you can’t possibly fit in a road trip to Chester this week, I hope to see you sometime this summer. Look for us at farmers markets, festivals, and maybe in your own backyard!  


29th Annual Celebration is Here!
This week! Thursday, May 15th
6 – 9 pm
American Legion Hall
637 VT Rte 103 South, CHESTER VT

We’re expecting close to 150 people for Rural Vermont’s 29th Annual Celebration, and the Rural Vermont board and staff look forward to welcoming each and every one of you.

Doors open at 5:30 pm. Come early and enjoy some pre-potluck snacks provided by Jersey Girls Farm Market & Cafe, Woodcock Farm, Green Mountain Flour, Crackers, Crepes, & Crisps, and lemonade from the Putney Co-op. Or you can beat the line at the bar and treat yourself to a cool brew at the cash bar.

At 6pm, the potluck gets underway and, due to our host venue’s incredible kitchen and capabilities, we’ll be able to support a pretty killer potluck. Want to bring your crockpot? We can plug it in. Need your dish heated up? We’ve got warming ovens. Need it kept cool til dessert? We’ve got fridge space. And we’ve even got (ta-da!) a TURKEY! Thanks to Scout Proft and Someday Farm in E. Dorset for providing this special treat.

Following the potluck and Rural Vermont’s Annual Business Meeting, including board member elections and awards, three farmers will take the stage to share their “real food” stories. Ben Hewitt, Lisa McCrory, and Tamara Martin will be telling stories about the value in cutting pigs on the kitchen table, the shift towards customers becoming characters in the story of their food, and passing on the time-honored tradition of bartering from one generation to the next.

As we do every year, Rural Vermont will be selling raffle tickets throughout the first part of the evening. This year’s theme is “Dig & Dine”! Purchase a $5 ticket from one of our raffle volunteers and be entered to win a bunch of Vermont Compost, a garden’s worth of High Mowing organic, non-GMO seeds, along with a cooler of locally-sourced and super special food.

If you’ve got friends, neighbors, or customers who care about real food, this is an event they won’t want to miss so bring them along!

Our Annual Celebration is a FREE event. Because Rural Vermont is powered by people, the more folks who become members or support our work with a contribution, the more powerful we can be in our work to restore the integrity of our food system and put the “culture” back in agriculture.

Please join  us!

Online registration will remain open
until midnight on Wednesday May 14th.
RSVP now!

RSVPing before the Wed. midnight deadline will enter you into the very last drawing for a 20qt bag of Vermont Compost, and it helps us be ready to welcome you to the Celebration! (If you absolutely can’t commit by midnight on Wed., walk-ins will certainly be welcome.

P.S. And if you’ve got an event of your own, or a service or product to promote, bring your materials to share on our Resources Table


72nd Legislative Session Ends
(You can once again park and have lunch in Montpelier)

People who eat: Won!
Corporate Bullies: Zip

We will provide a complete summary of the wins, losses and draws from the 2013-2014 legislative session next week. Stay tuned!


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

VT Digger: Trade group vows to sue over Vermont’s GMO labeling law

John Herrick
May. 12 2014
Full Article

The ink was barely dry on Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law when a national industry trade group declared it would seek to overturn it.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents cereal-maker General Mills, among others, said Friday it intends to sue the state to reverse the law.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said Monday the state is prepared. “We’re expecting to be sued and we’ll put the A-team on the case if and when we are sued,” Sorrell said.

Food companies, retailers and biotechnology industry trade groups oppose Vermont’s law requiring manufacturers to put a one-line label on products containing genetically modified ingredients starting in 2016. Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill at an outdoor ceremony Thursday.

They say GMO crops pose no risk to human health or the environment; instead, they say the law will only increase food prices and complicate interstate commerce.

The vast majority of commodity crops grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered to ward off pests and withstand heavy herbicide applications. These products are used in the majority of the country’s processed foods.

Scientific research is inconclusive on whether GMO products are as safe for human consumption as their non-GMO counterparts. But environmentalists warn these crops can create untamable “super weeds” resistant to herbicides, forcing the agricultural industry to spray more weed-killing chemicals.

“So if as a consumer you’re concerned about the long-term health of our nation’s soils, water, flora and fauna … then that could be a decision as to why you don’t want to buy a GMO product,” Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, a longtime legislative leader on the issue, said this month.

But industry groups say GMO production is better for the environment because farmers can produce more crops with less land, water and fuel.

More than two dozen states are considering labeling laws. Connecticut and Maine have passed laws that will go into effect only when neighboring states follow suit – a strategy designed to shield individual states from bearing the cost of trailblazing a policy that is loathed by well-heeled industry groups.

And now the second-smallest state in the nation is has picked a fight with some of the world’s largest food manufacturers, including General Mills, a $31 billion company that opposes state labeling initiatives and is a member of the GMA.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell. Photo by Roger Crowley

Sorrell estimates defending the law could cost $1 million to win and $5 million or more to lose. The state is stockpiling $1.5 million through state appropriations and settlement surpluses to defend the law. The state also announced last week at a bill signing that it is taking private donations through a newly created defense-fund website,

The state anticipates a host of constitutional challenges, including free speech protections, interference with interstate commerce and conflicts with federal law.

One reason is consumer demand will force food producers to source more expensive non-GMO commodities to avoid what the group calls a perceived “warning” label.

“It’s more because of the perception that such a law sends to the consumers. It’s essentially a de facto warning,” said Karen Batra, a BIO spokeswoman, in an interview Monday.

This is a market decision food producers will have to make, despite indifference on the part of many consumers who care more about calories and prices, she said.

National polls indicate that 93 percent of respondents say foods containing genetically engineered ingredients should be labeled. A VTDigger poll shows overwhelming support for GMO labeling in Vermont. The chorus backing Vermont’s bill has been about a consumer’s “right to know” what is in their food.

It’s also unclear whether these food producers will stop selling to Vermont’s 626,000 residents altogether. Opponents of the labeling law say it may cost these companies less to exclude Vermont’s market than to comply.

“That’s just one of these scare tactics that industry folks are trying to build … against a law that is very popular,” Sorrell said of the possibility sale restrictions in Vermont.

He said attorneys general across the country are putting bipartisan support behind Vermont’s law.

“I think this issue of GE food labeling is going to be one that’s going to be enacted in other states going forward,” he said.

He said the Attorney General’s Office will have regulatory rules on the labeling law drafted as soon as late summer. This will include how the label will appear on the food packages. There will be a chance for the public to comment on the regulations, he said.

GMO Labeling is Law!

Rural Vermont GMO Labeling Bill Signed into LawOn May 8th, Governor Shumlin signed Vermont’s GMO labeling bill into law, making Vermont the first state that will require labels on genetically engineered foods! The law will require labels on genetically engineered foods sold at retail outlets in Vermont, and will go in to effect on July 1st 2016. The law would also prohibit labeling products produced with genetic engineering as “natural”, “100% natural” or “all natural”.

Now the work to implement and defend the law begins. If you want to be able to choose food that supports your values consider making a contribution here:

Thank you to all of the activists across the state for this victory!

Read the VPR article about the signing ceremony, and check out the great slideshow of photos from the event.