Author Archives: Mollie

Vermont Law School Center for Agriculture and Food Systems: What it Means to Be a Farm and Food Advocate (video)

Published on Apr 26, 2013
By the VLS Center for Agriculture and Food Systems
Watch the full video here.

At the Vermont Law School Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, we learn from our neighbors—farmers and food entrepreneurs. We are part of the community and, through community, experience the legal and policy issues facing small and mid-sized farmers in America. In the keeping with this ethos, the following video was directed and shot by two second year law students and the music was likewise created by law students or friends of the law school.

NOFAvore Blog

NOFA-VT’s blog covers topics for farmers, gardeners, and organic consumers. Also includes policy updates.

Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund: National Farmers Union Endorses Raw Milk

by Kimberly Hartke
April 10, 2013
Full podcast

Episode 8 of the Food Rights Hour podcast is about the National Farmers Union’s endorsement of raw milk. During this episode, host Kimberly Hartke talks about the National Farmers Union’s (NFU) decision to endorse this nutrient-dense beverage with guests David Gumpert, Mark McAfee, Hannah Smith-Brubaker, Richard R. Oswald, and Danielle Nierenberg.

What does NFU’s decision mean for the future of raw milk? What do two delegates for the NFU, Hannah Smith-Brubaker and Richard R. Oswald, have to say in response to NFU’s recent endorsement?  What is the American Farm Bureau’s take on raw milk? How did Mark McAfee help convince the NFU to endorse raw milk? Does the new food think tank, Food Tank, have a stance on raw versus pasteurized milk?

On Pasture

A free, online grazing magazine.

Reader Supported News Op-Ed: Monsanto Pressuring Vermont Lawmakers on Labeling Bill

By Ronnie Cummins, Katherine Paul, Times Argus
29 April 13
Full Article

Monsanto’s lobbyists are out in force in Vermont, lobbying politicians in the hope of scuttling H.122, Vermont’s labeling law, which would require mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

They’re repeating ad nauseum their propaganda claims that GE foods and crops are perfectly safe and therefore need no labeling, that transgenics are environment- and climate-friendly, and that genetically modified crops are necessary to feed the world.

But as consumers become wiser, Monsanto has had to resort to attacking democracy instead of merely trying to defend its indefensible products.

One of Monsanto’s major propaganda points, designed to discourage state officials from passing GMO labeling laws, is that state GMO labeling is unconstitutional. Last year, the company threatened to sue the state of Vermont if lawmakers passed a GMO labeling law.

Biotech industry lawyers claim federal courts will strike down mandatory state GMO labeling for three reasons:

  1. Because federal law, in this case FDA regulations, pre-empts state law.
  2. Because commercial free speech allows corporations to remain silent on whether or not their products are genetically engineered.
  3. Because GMO labeling would interfere with interstate commerce.

These claims simply don’t hold up. State GMO labeling, and other food safety and food labeling laws, are constitutional. Federal law, upheld for decades by federal court legal decisions, allows states to pass laws relating to food safety or food labels when the FDA has no prior regulations or prohibitions in place.

There is currently no federal law or FDA regulation on GMO labeling, except for a guidance statement on voluntary labeling, nor is there any federal prohibition on state GMO or other food safety labeling laws.

In fact, there are more than 200 state food labeling laws in effect right now in the U.S., including a GMO fish labeling law in Alaska, laws on labeling wild rice, maple syrup, dairy quality, kosher products, and laws on labeling dairy products as rBGH-free.

U.S. case law does indicate that commercial free speech in certain instances allows corporations to remain silent about what’s in their products. However, federal courts have consistently ruled that when there are compelling state interests – health, environment, economic – states can require corporations to divulge what’s in their products or how they were produced.

When it comes to GMOs, states can clearly make the case for compelling state interests, according to Consumer Union’s senior scientist, Michael Hansen. He says: “There is a compelling state interest in labeling of genetically engineered foods and that is due to the potential human health and environmental impacts of genetically engineered foods.”

Hansen also argues that Codex Alimentarius, a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety, guarantees nations the right to implement mandatory labeling of GMO foods. The standards support the argument that GMO labels do not constitute a restriction of free trade, as long as they are applied to both domestic and international producers.

Similarly state GMO labels, as long as they do not discriminate against particular producers, but rather apply to all producers – state, national, and international – do not constitute a restriction of interstate commerce.

The U.S. government, under massive global pressure, has signed on to the Codex Alimentarius, which serves “as a risk management measure to deal with the scientific uncertainty” associated with genetically engineered foods. And according to Hansen, there most certainly is significant scientific uncertainty about the potential health impacts of genetically engineered foods.

States and localities have the right and the power to pass their own legislation, especially when the federal government fails or refuses to act on matters of compelling interest. Although large corporations now control the federal government, we still have room to organize and govern ourselves, especially at the local level.

Vermonters are engaged in a fundamental battle, for the right to know what’s in our food, the right to choose what we buy and eat, and the right to regulate out-of-control corporations that are threatening our environment, our health and future climate stability.

Without bio-democracy there can be no democracy. Without a balance of powers between the federal government, states and local home rule, there is no republic, but rather a corporatocracy, an unholy alliance between indentured politicians and profit-at-any-cost corporations.

The battle for food sovereignty, beginning here in Vermont, is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

Burlington Free Press: GMO labeling won’t pass this year

By Dave Gram
Full Article

MONTPELIER — With time ticking down in this year’s Vermont Legislative session, it’s becoming clear that lawmakers won’t pass a bill requiring labels on genetically modified food before wrapping up their work for 2013.

The House Judiciary Committee isn’t expected to finish its work on the measure and send it to the full House for debate until next week. On Friday afternoon, committee members were digging into the legal weeds, examining opinions from the Hawaii attorney general, an industry group and legislative lawyers in Oregon on how well such a measure might hold up in court.

With just a week or two left on the legislative calendar, supporters of the GMO labeling bill said their best hope was to get a positive vote in the House before adjournment and to ask the Senate to tackle the issue when lawmakers return for the second year of their two-year biennium in January.

Sen. David Zuckerman of Burlington, vice chairman of his chamber’s Agriculture Committee, said Friday that there was no chance his panel would be able to review the GMO labeling bill and bring it to the full Senate for debate before the end of the 2013 session.

Lawmakers are tentatively scheduled to finish up their work by next Friday. There was widespread speculation that the session may extend into the following week if negotiations over several open bills drag on.

Andrea Stander, executive director of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont, said by January, “the landscape may have changed significantly,” with action on the issue in other states. Among those are Connecticut, where legislation is pending, and Washington state, which is set to vote on a referendum in November calling for labeling of food containing genetically modified components.

The Vermont bill would do that for most foods, but would exempt animal products, including meat and dairy products. That’s despite the fact most Vermont dairy cows are fed corn from genetically modified seed, according to members of the House Agriculture Committee.

05/03 Alert: It aint over, ’til it’s over

Dear Members and Friends,

As we head into what MAY be the final days of this year’s Legislative session, (current adjournment date is projected as May 11th) we have lots of reasons to be excited and hopeful about several of Rural Vermont’s key issues.

This is also the point in the legislative process when everything (and everyone) in the State House gets unpredictable and even a bit loopy. The schedule of committee meetings and floor sessions changes daily, if not hourly. Progress can be glacially slow or everything can change in a minute as the result of a single conversation.

Now is the time for your voice to be heard. Please read the updates below and please take action on the issues that are most important to you.

If you have questions, want to visit the State House to see the action in person, or need any help contacting your legislators, please contact Andrea or Robb.

Thanks for your activism and support of our work. Hope to see you under the Golden Dome!


P.S. Because things at the State House are changing so rapidly, we’ve set up a special section on our home page to post the latest legislative updates. So check there often. You can also follow our advocacy work on our Facebook page.

 GMOGMO Labeling Bill Headed to a House Floor Vote – H.112

Ever since Vermont House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry Products passed the VT Right to Know GMO Food Labeling Bill, H.112, over a month ago, the bill has been stuck in the very busy House Judiciary Committee. Last week the Judiciary Committee took up the bill and on Thurs and Fri of this week they are taking testimony and discussing the legal and judicial aspects of the bill.H.112 will require that food sold in Vermont (with a few exceptions) that has been genetically engineered be labeled as such.

Although it is a simple consumer protection law, it has attracted a threat from the bio-tech industry that the State of Vermont will be sued the minute the bill is signed into law.

We now anticipate that H.112 will make it to the floor of the House for a full vote before this session ends. However, there are no guarantees under the dome. So, here’s where you come in…

If your legislator serves on the House Judiciary Committee (see list below) please contact them IMMEDIATELY and urge them to move H.112 swiftly to a committee vote.
ACTION #2: Every member of the House of Representatives needs to hear NOW from their constituents urging them to vote to pass H.112 when it comes to the floor of the House (probably next week.)NOTE: Check here before you call to see if your representative is a co-sponsor of H.112 – if they are, THANK THEM  FOR THEIR LEADERSHIP.

You can reach your Representative by calling the State House Sergeant-At-Arms office at 802-828-2228. Please be polite and brief as the small staff of that office handles hundred of calls a day.

VERY IMPORTANT: Please give the Sergeant-At-Arms staff your legislator’s name, tell them you are calling in support of S.157, and leave your name, town, phone number, and ask for a call back (important to ensure your message is delivered).

ACTIVIST TIP: This weekend you may have good luck reaching your legislator at home – you can find their home phone numbers in the


Bill Lippert of Hinesburg (Chair)                    Maxine Grad of Moretown (Vice Chair)

Tom Koch of Barre Town (Ranking Member)  Chip Conquest of Newbury

Andy Donaghy of Poultney                          Michelle Fay of St. Johnsbury

Charles Goodwin of Weston                        Richard Marek of Newfane

Vicki Strong of Albany                                Linda Waite-Simpson of Essex

Suzi Wizowaty of Burlington (Clerk)

HempExtremely Hopeful for Hemp Bill – S.157

Last Thursday, the Vermont House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry Products unanimously voted out S.157, the Hemp Bill. S.157 will allow Vermont farmers to grow hemp this year by simplifying Vermont law and making Vermont’s  new hemp law effective upon passage and not waiting for a change in Federal law.S.157 will require that Vermonters interested in growing hemp pay a fee of $25 and register with the Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets. Thefarmer  will need to fill out a form that states how much acreage will be planted, the location of the field, and that the seeds used are of a low THC level variety (below .3% tetrahydrocannabinol).

S.157 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee for a review of the $25 registration fee. After hearing a concern that a registration fee may implicate the State of Vermont in a federal legal action against a Vermont farmer they are considering removing the fee. Despite this minor issue we have been reassured that the bill will most likely pass the committee this week.

We expect S.157 will come to a House floor vote next week and after that we expect that the Senate will concurs with the House amendments to the bill.

ACTION #1: Call your representatives and ask them to support S.157 as amended by the House Ag committee.  If your representative is a member of the House Ag Committee, (see below) please give them a big THANK YOU for their work on the bill.
ACTION #2: Call your Senators and thank them for their earlier support of S.157, and then ask them to concur with the amendments proposed by the House Ag Committee. If your Senator is a member of the Senate Ag Committee, (see below) please thank them for initiating the progressive Hemp bill.

You can reach your representatives/senators by calling the State House Sergeant-At-Arms office at 802-828-2228. Please be polite and brief as the small staff of that office handles hundred of calls a day.

VERY IMPORTANT: Please give the Sergeant-At-Arms staff your legislator’s name, tell them you are calling in support of S.157, and leave your name, town, phone number, and ask for a call back (important to ensure your message is delivered).

ACTIVIST TIP: This weekend you may have good luck reaching your legislator at home – you can find their home phone numbers in the

Partridge of Windham (Chair)          Lawrence of Lyndon (Vice Chair)
Bartholomew of Hartland (Clerk)      Stevens of Shoreham
Connor of Fairfield                          Martin of Springfield
Michelsen of Hardwick                   Taylor of Barre City
Toleno of Brattleboro                      Smith of New Haven
Zagar of Barnard

Senator Starr of Orleans County (Chair)
Senator Zuckerman of Chittenden County (Vice-Chair)
Senator Bray of Addison County (Clerk)

MeatLegitimizing an Historic Vermont Food Tradition – H.515
For the past few weeks some provisions of the annual “Ag Housekeeping Bill” have been drawing a lot of attention. This bill, H.515, which already passed the House, was amended by the Senate Ag Committee and now includes some small but progressive improvements to Vermont’s law governing on-farm slaughter. Many of these improvements have been secured through the hard work of Rural Vermont board member Carl Russell who has volunteered his time lobbying on this issue.Other members of Rural Vermont’s board: Doug Flack, Tamara Martin and Ben Hewitt, as well as members Peter Harvey and John Winn along with many other farmers and citizens have also contributed their time and testimony to advancing this bill. In particular, John Winn’s daughter, Sharon Fannon, who is an attorney, did crucial research that helped convince the Senate Ag Committee of the possibility of making changes that would help small-scale farmers without jeopardizing Vermont’s state meat inspection program.

Because H.515 is a so-called “housekeeping” bill, it contains a wide variety of provisions that make changes to different parts of Vermont law and therefore is a bit challenging to read and understand. Unfortunately the bill, as it currently stands, is not available online. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the current version of the bill,

please contact Andrea.If you have detailed or technical questions about the bill, please contact Carl Russell.

Here’s a very brief description of what the bill would do:
1. It would make it legal for people who work in commercial slaughterhouses to also work as itinerant slaughterers, thus increasing the number of skilled people available to farmers. (This was previously prohibited)

2. Within specific limits on the total number of animals slaughtered per year per farm, it would make it legal for a person to purchase a live animal from a farmer and either slaughter the animal themselves or hire an itinerant slaughterer to slaughter the animal on the farm where it was raised (without assistance from the farmer.)

3. The additional restrictions that are in the bill are that the slaughter must be carried out under sanitary conditions which are minimally defined in the bill.

Rural VT Board Member Carl Russell

The House Ag Committee took a great deal of testimony this week. They are now waiting for an answer from the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service to a key question about the definition of “sanitary conditions.” We expect that the Committee will continue its work on the bill early next week.

Please stay tuned next week for information on what actions you can take to help move this bill to final passage.

Reuters: U.S. GMO food labeling drive has biotech industry biting back

By Carey Gillam
Thu Apr 25, 2013
New efforts to force labeling of foods made with genetically modified crops, including a bill introduced by U.S. lawmakers Wednesday, have struck a nerve with biotech crop developers who say they are rushing to roll out a broad strategy to combat consumer concerns about their products.
Full Article

Executives from Monsanto Co., DuPont, and Dow Chemical, among the world’s largest developers of biotech crops and the chemicals used to help produce them, told Reuters this week they are putting together a campaign aimed at turning the tide on what they acknowledge is a growing public sentiment against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used as ingredients in the nation’s food supply.

Last year, the industry spent $40 million to defeat a labeling measure in California. But similar initiatives are underway now in more than 20 states, and the move by the big biotech firms is designed to thwart the spread of such initiatives, which the companies say would confuse consumers and roil the food manufacturing industry.

The big biotech firms are still working out details of their plan, but it will likely have a large social media component, the company executives said. The group will focus on conveying what it says are the many benefits of biotech crops. Participants have not yet set a budget for the campaign, Enright said.

The most popular gene-altered crops withstand dousings of weed-killing chemicals and produce their own insect-killing toxins. Biotech corn, canola, soybeans, and other crops are used in human food and animal feed around the world and biotech companies say they are heavily regulated and thoroughly tested.

Proponents of labeling for GMO foods said momentum is on their side. Various groups have held rallies over the last several weeks in Washington, D.C., and at several state capitols to press the issue.

“They should be worried,” said Scott Faber, executive director of the Just Label It campaign, which has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to require labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.

In fact, supporters of a Washington state measure similar to the failed California initiative said Tuesday they had raised more than $1 million from supporters.

In introducing a U.S. labeling bill Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio said consumers have a right to know what type of ingredients are in their food.

“Consumers deserve to have clear, consistent, and accurate facts about the food products they purchase,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said in a statement. Blumenthal was one of 31 lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill.

Law makers and anti-GMO activists are responding to growing public concern about possible health risks associated with GMO foods. While there is no scientific consensus that foods made with GMO ingredients are harmful, activists argue that people have a right to know what they are eating.

Last month, grocery retailer Whole Foods said that it would require suppliers to label any product made with genetically modified ingredients. And the Natural Products Association, which represents 1,900 food industry players, has called for a uniform standard for GMO labeling to apply nationwide.

“This is a rapidly growing movement,” said Dave Murphy, a spokesman for Food Democracy Now, a group pushing for GMO labeling. “We’re not giving up until we have labeling. We’re just not going away.”

Monsanto and other biotech crop companies say mandatory labeling would confuse consumers and could deter them from purchasing foods made with genetically modified ingredients.

Yahoo News: Michael Pollan: Genetically Modified Foods Offer Consumers “Nothing”

By Morgan Korn, the Daily Ticker
Mon, Apr 29, 2013

Full Article and video

Few Americans were aware of the dangers of industrial farming and processed food before Michael Pollan published his best-selling books “In Defense of Food” and the “Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

In his new book “Cooked,” Pollan urges more Americans to home-cook their meals. Cooking, he says, will lower obesity rates and re-connect individuals with “the material world.”

Eating the right foods are as important as eating foods that are not genetically modified, Pollan argues in the accompanying clip. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are “plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology, or genetic engineering,” according to The Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit organization that tests food products for GMOs.

“This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding,” it says.

Soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, zucchini, summer squash and sugar beets are high-risk of being GMO. Dairy and animal products also expose consumers to GMO crops because animals are fed a diet rich in corn and grains. About 70% to 80% of processed foods sold in the U.S. are made with genetically engineered ingredients.

Sixty-four countries around the world, including Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Russia and European Union member states, have significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.

Last November California voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have required all food to be labeled as GMO or non-GMO. Opponents of the measure, including Monsanto (MON), Dupont (DD), Dow Chemical (DOW) and PepsiCo (PEP), raised more than $45 million to defeat the proposed labeling law.

Supporters of labeling say that GMO foods damage the environment and present serious health risks like organ failure. Genetically modified seeds have also become resistant to pests and invasive weeds. Last week Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced a bill that would require the labeling of GMO ingredients.

The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act would force food manufacturers to label fruits, vegetables, processed foods and seafood as genetically altered. The Food and Drug Administration has allowed genetically altered foods to be sold without labeling since 1992 and does not require safety studies of such foods.

Washington state has introduced a ballot initiative titled I-522 that seeks labeling and transparency of these foods. Whole Foods (WFM) announced in April that it would label all products containing GMOs in its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018.

Pollan says there has been a lot of support in Washington by local farmers and residents to pass the state’s GMO bill. Telling people where their food comes from should be a “fundamental right,” he argues.

“Many people are absolutely fine with genetically modified food,” he says. “This is not an argument that it’s dangerous. But the way food is produced is relevant to the consumer. There are people who care. Personal responsibility should rule. But personal responsibility depends on information.”

Consumers across the country are becoming more aware of the GMO labeling issue. The fastest-growing category in the super market today is products labeled GMO-free, Pollan notes. The organic food industry grew at 7.7% in 2010 and the organic industry is creating jobs at four times the national rate, according to the I-522 Web site.

Agribusiness giant Monsanto has been one of the most vocal opponents of GMO labeling. The company generates revenue from seed sales and the licensing of its genetic seed technology to other corporations. Monsanto has been spending millions of dollars fighting these labeling proposals because they could dramatically impact the company’s earnings and stock price.

VT Digger: Advocates push for bill requiring labeling of genetically engineered food

by Andrew Stein
April 16, 2013
Full Article

More than 6,800 Vermonters and 175 businesses have signed a petition calling on the state Legislature to pass legislation that would require the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods sold in Vermont.

House Bill 112, which has the support of the Agriculture and Forest Products Committee, would do just that, with some exceptions. And the House Judiciary Committee is slated to take up the bill this Thursday.

The groups that organized the petition  — Vermont Public Interest Research Group, NOFA Vermont and Rural Vermont — gathered with representatives from various Vermont grocery cooperatives on Tuesday at Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Coop.

All 17 of the state’s member-owned cooperatives support the House bill, and the co-op staff made a public plea to legislators to pass the legislation.

Krissy Ruddy of Hunger Mountain Coop said Vermont co-ops in 2011 generated more than $88 million in revenues and served more than 30,000 members. But this bill, she said, extends far beyond the scope of the state’s local cooperatives.

“This isn’t a natural foods issue. This isn’t a co-op issue,”she said. “This is really a human issue because we all eat, and we all deserve to know what it is that we’re eating.”

Ruddy and other co-op representatives present at Tuesday’s press conference said that their customers are consistently asking for information about GE foods.

Annie Gaillard, who manages Hardwick’s Buffalo Mountain Coop, said her customers want to know what foods are genetically modified, but providing them with an answer takes her down rabbit holes that rarely have an end.

“They can know if there is gluten in their products. They can know if there’s too much salt in products,” she said. “People go in (the store) because they’re trying to make healthy foods choices, and this is a choice they’re not being given.”

Allison Weinhagen of Burlington’s City Market said that a survey of 1,400 customers found that more than 95 percent of the store’s clientele support a GE labeling law.

“They want to know what’s in their food, as they should,” she said. “They have every right to know what they’re eating, what they’re putting in their bodies, and what they’re putting in their kids bodies … so they can decide what’s best for them and their families.”

This is a problem for Gov. Peter Shumlin and some legislators who say they support GE labeling. These lawmakers don’t want the state to get tied up in a costly lawsuit that they might not win.

For more on the ins and outs of this bill, including the loopholes and the legal protections, read this story.