Author Archives: Mollie

The Des Moines Register: Global GMO plantings hit a record in 2014, led by US

Christopher Doering
January 28, 2015
Full Article

Biotech crops were grown on a record 448 million acres in 2014, a group that promotes the use of these crops reports Wednesday.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications said genetically modified seeds, which contain DNA that’s been modified to express a trait such as resistance to a pest, an environmental condition or a chemical, were grown by 28 countries last year. The 448 million acres planted worldwide in 2014 was up 15 million acres from the previous year.

The United States continued to lead production with 180.6 million acres of biotech crops, an increase of about 7.6 million acres, or 4 percent, from 2013. In the United States, biotech crops are used for corn, cotton, sugar beet, squash and other crops.

“The (acreage) of biotech crops grown in 1996 to 2014 equals, roughly, 80 percent more than the total land mass of China,” said Clive James, ISAAA founder and author of the report. “Global (acreage) has increased more than 100-fold since the first plantings of biotech crops.”

The technology was commercially introduced in the United States in 1996 with the launch of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans, a plant that tolerates the company’s Roundup herbicide while nearby weeds are killed.

About 90 percent of all corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States is produced from genetically modified seed.

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Times Argus: Sorrell confident on GMO lawsuit

Full Article 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Shawn M. Griffiths
Full Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burlington Free Press: Vermont calls more GMO hearings

Associated Pres
January 27, 2015
Full Article

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

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

The new deadline for written comments is Feb. 12.

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

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

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

Jan 20, 2015
Full Article & Audio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 9, 2015
Full Article & Audio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Susan & Ryan Hayes

Susan & Ryan Hayes. Photo credit: 7 Days

Susan & Ryan Hayes. Photo credit: 7 Days

They own the Farm of Milk & Honey, a small, grass-based, organically managed raw milk micro-dairy in Washington, and they are Rural Vermont members.

“We often reach out to our friends at Rural Vermont for advice and ideas. As the year was coming to an end, we reflected on how integral they have become to our farm and our business.

Their advocacy around raw milk and other key issues of importance to us (like on-farm slaughter & GMO labeling) has brought about real change in the state. And through their work, they have cultivated a community of committed producers and consumers who collaborate to address common challenges.

Rural Vermont is an inspiring, passionate group of people who are helping to sustain Vermont’s agricultural landscape and we are so lucky to have them as friends, supporters, and advocates. We urge you to become a member or make your special contribution today!

Want to see more real change? Join the Hayes and become part of Rural Vermont’s growing community of producers and consumers by making your special contribution to Rural Vermont today.

Learn about why others support Rural Vermont, or tell us why YOU are a supporter!

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

April Burbank
January 14, 2015
Full Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/14 Update: First impressions from under the Golden Dome

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