Author Archives: Mollie
by Andrew Stein
March 1, 2013
Vermont is one step closer to becoming the first state in the nation to enact a labeling law for genetically engineered foods.
The legislation, H.112, would give consumers access to information about what food products have been genetically modified.
The House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products voted 8-3 in favor of the bill.
Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, said after three weeks of “annoyingly contradictory” testimony, the committee was unable to determine whether there are “serious health consequences to these products.”
“We are only able to say there were … some unanswered questions about the safety of these foods,” he said. “A consumer needs to know so that he or she can make an informed decision about what products they are going to buy. If they know it’s in there, and they’re going to buy it, OK.”
The proposed bill defines genetically engineered foods as those created from organisms in which the genetic material has been changed via in vitro nucleic acid techniques or cellular fusion. Foods for sale in the retail marketplace that are produced “entirely or partially” using these methods, must be labeled under the proposed legislation.
Raw GE foods would require a label that says: “produced with genetic engineering” or “genetically engineered.” Processed foods that contain one or many GE ingredients would be labeled “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering.”
Under the legislation, GE foods could not be advertised as: “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or use any similar descriptions that “have a tendency to mislead a consumer.”
The statewide trade organization Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility fully supports the bill.
Dan Barlow, a lobbyist for VBSR, said, “Vermonters have a right to know what’s in their food, and right now GMOs are a threat to the Vermont brand. I think this move can only strengthen the Vermont brand going forward.”
Others have reservations about the bill. Margaret Laggis, who lobbies for the biotech industry, represents the groups Dairy Farmers Working Together and United Dairy Farmers of Vermont.
Many dairy and livestock products, however, would not be subject to GE labeling, as the legislation exempts “food consisting entirely of or derived entirely from an animal which has not itself been produced with genetic engineering.”
The bill exempts a range of other foods, and Laggis questions the bill’s purpose.
“This bill has an ice cream truck size exemption for probably 60 percent to 70 percent of the foods Vermonters eat because meat, dairy, alcohol are not included, no restaurant foods,” she said. “We kind of feel like this is the largest, state-sponsored, consumer-deception bill we’ve ever seen.”
Falko Schilling, an advocate with Vermont Public Interest Research Group, says the exemptions are similar to proposals now under consideration in 20 other states and laws now in effect in dozens of countries around the world.
“What we’re trying to do is play catch-up with the rest of the world,” he said. “Look at Europe: They don’t require labeling of meat or milk from cows that have been fed GE feed. It’s also the language that’s been incorporated in the Washington initiative and in a number of states across the country, so (the committee) is just trying to be as consistent as possible.”
The bill, Schilling said, is based on Proposition 37, the California labeling law that was defeated by voters last November.
The Vermont bill would take effect 18 months after two other states enact similar legislation on July 1, 2015, or whichever date comes first.
But before that day arrives, the legislation is likely to hit a legal hurdle.
That’s why the law includes a severability clause. If any part of the legislation violates the Vermont or U.S. constitutions, “the violation shall not affect other provisions” of the law.
Seven Days reporter Katie Flagg reported earlier this week that leading advocates of the bill and Democratic Rep. Carolyn Partridge, who chairs the Agriculture Committee, anticipate a lawsuit. Partridge is a strong supporter of the legislation.
“I’m not intimidated at all,” she told Flagg.
Vt. would become first state with law if passed
Mar 01, 2013
Full Article and Video
BURLINGTON, Vt. —The House Agriculture committee will vote Friday on whether to move ahead with a bill placing labels on genetically modified food products.
“It’s really just to give people a choice,” said Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont. “Right now, you can’t know whether what you’re buying, what you’re eating, what you’re feeding your family has been genetically engineered.”
They’re called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Stander is part of a Vermont coalition that wants you to know when you’re eating them, just like products now are labeled organic.
“We believe that’s a significant piece of information,” Stander said. “Similar to some of the other things we have information about on our food labels.”
We already know how much sodium, fat and calories are in what we eat, nutrition labels are required by law. The Right To Know coalition wants to add a sticker to every piece of food sold in Vermont made with GMOs.
If passed, Vermont would become the first state requiring the labels. A similar bill, passed on to California voters in November failed.
Much of the opposition toward GMOs is directed toward the Monsanto Company, the market leader in genetically-engineered seeds and herbicides.
Officials at Monsanto could not be reached Thursday, but on its website, the company says, “Requiring labeling for ingredients that don’t pose a health issue would undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence.”
The coalition is pushing for a state law because the FDA and USDA have not stepped in, Stander said. She adds more research needs to be performed on these foods.
“Essentially, we’ve all been lab rats for the last 20 years since this food was introduced into our food system,” she said.
If passed in committee, the bill would move on to another House committee. Similar legislation is also in committee in the Senate.
The Assistant Attorney General told the committee in a hearing that Vermont would likely be sued if such legislation became law.
Some Vermont farmers are eager to grow hemp—once they’re allowed
By Rural Vermont Organizer Robb Kidd
“Hemp For Victory!” the poster reads.
Hanging in the House Agriculture Committee’s hearing room in the Vermont Statehouse, and put there by who knows who, it’s a poster that to some would be more appropriate in a college dorm room 30 years ago. In reality, it’s from 1942 and was produced by the United States Department of Agriculture to promote a film encouraging U.S. farmers to grow hemp to support the war effort.
But it’s a poster that has relevance today, as Vermont farmers who believe in the economic and agricultural benefits of growing hemp seek a victory in their longstanding push to grow industrial hemp.
In 2008, advocates led by Rural Vermont and the national organization Vote Hemp celebrated the tri-partisan passage of Vermont’s Industrial Hemp Bill, Act 212. The bill calls for a regulatory framework for growing industrial hemp in Vermont. However, it can only take effect once the federal government—either Congress or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration—takes an active step in the permitting of hemp. In the meantime, the hemp export industry is thriving in Canada and China, primarily supplying the U.S. demand for hemp products.
Why the prohibition in America? Hemp’s cousin is the marijuana plant. The two plants look similar; however the hemp plant contains minimal traces of the psychoactive drug associated with the marijuana plant, tetrahydracannabinol (THC). The hemp plant contains .3 percent THC concentration as compared to marijuana, which contains anywhere from 2 percent THC to the modern levels of 20 percent THC. If a person were to smoke hemp they would most likely achieve a bad headache rather than obtain any intoxicating effects.
There are many theories as to why the hemp plant became illegal to grow in the U.S., including allegations that it was competing with the Hearst family’s newspaper interests, as hemp can be turned into paper very efficiently compared to wood. But today, the biggest resistance to hemp comes from the law enforcement community, concerned by its association with marijuana.
So it is still illegal for Vermont farmers to grow hemp, but that is not stopping some from planning on it.
Will Allen, of Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford, wants to grow hemp because “it’s a miraculous crop that can provide wood, cordage, high-protein seeds, fabric, medicines, large amounts of organic matter, bio plastics, animal feed….” In an interview with WCAX-TV last August, Will commented on its prohibition: “Yeah, it’s related to marijuana, but poppies are related to opium poppies—it’s the same issue. We don’t stop growing poppies because they are related to opium poppies. We grow poppies because they are beautiful, and we should grow hemp because it’s useful.” Should the federal government pave the way for Vermont’s law to take effect, Will plans on becoming one of the first Vermont farmers to grow hemp.
John Vitko, who runs a small-scale diversified farm in Warren, says hemp “is proven by our forefathers to be a very productive and manageable plant for a small farm, and denying farms this tool is a crime.” His farm provides eggs for his local ice cream business, and his “main reason to grow hemp is to supply a feed for my chickens that is high in omega 3-6, a complete protein, and loaded with amino acids; this feed will make my chickens healthier and in turn make healthier eggs and healthier humans.” Furthermore, John points out that “a farm could improve hard clay soil [common in Vermont] with its tap root, and it could be grown in areas where other crops have difficulty, feed and bed the livestock, fuel the tractor, warm the farmhouse, and clothe the farmer.” He acknowledges that hemp is not the “holy grail” but is quite versatile and “should be in every farmer’s fields.”
Aspiring farmer Ben Brown of South Burlington envisions growing hemp on land he is looking to purchase. “I intend to use hemp on my [future] homestead to feed animals, sequester carbon, fix nitrogen in the soil, and hopefully sell the residual byproducts of my uses to other local industries such as textiles, building materials, etc.”
Full Sun, a new Vermont startup in the midst of building a commercial oilseed processing facility in Addison County, is also hoping to one day source local hemp. At first, “our business model is to purchase non-GMO and organic specialty oil crops [such as canola, sunflower, and soybean] from Vermont farmers and others in the region, and market the oil and meal for food and feed ingredients,” says Netaka White, cofounder of Full Sun along with his business partner, David McManus. “We can’t wait to set contracts with our farmer/partners to grow hemp seed. Farm gate prices are around $1.00 per pound now, with 800 to 1,200 pounds of seed per acre, so it’s a solid cash crop for the grower, and the hemp oil, the meal, and the hulled seed are all going to be important products for Full Sun. But unfortunately, until the federal government reclassifies hemp, we’re forced to buy from Canadian growers.”
Hempfully Green of Poultney is planning on developing “sustainable, clean, carbon-reducing, fuel-reducing, fire-proof, mold-proof housing made from locally grown hemp.” Forming hemp into a concrete-like substance called “hempcrete” is highly efficient and is currently being used in Quebec. Tom Simon, a partner in the business, is working on a business proposal to sell the equipment, know-how, and building needed to grow and harvest—on 45 acres—all the seed stock to fulfill all the energy needs of a farm, from electric to auto/tractor fuel to home fuel.
Where does hemp stand, legislatively? Last year, Vermont Senator Vince Illuzi attached an amendment to a relatively minor bill that would have given the Vermont Agency of Agriculture the power to issue hemp permits and symbolically challenge current federal policy. Instead, a compromise was struck that authorized the agency to create rules for the permitting process and hold a public comment period (but the agency cannot issue a permit until the DEA or Congress acts on federal policy). Once this state-permitting process is developed by the agency, Vermont farmers would be a step closer to being able to plant hemp; they’d be “shovel ready” should the federal government act, and would not have to be delayed while Vermont engaged in a rule-making process.
On the national level, Vermont is not in a bubble. Vote Hemp, a national hemp advocacy organization, notes that “to date, thirty-one states have introduced pro-hemp legislation and nineteen have passed pro-hemp legislation.” Rural Vermont and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund have collaborated on a public education campaign to drive the Vermont Congressional delegation to action, which they have taken. Vermont Rep. Peter Welch was a co-sponsor of Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2010, which gives authority to the states to regulate hemp as they see fit. And this past summer, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders joined Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley in co-sponsoring Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2012, which would do the same as the House bill. Neither bill has come up for a vote yet.
In late January of this year, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, sent a letter to DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart declaring that the “Senate Judiciary Committee has an interest in the DEA’s regulation of industrial hemp and its effect on the ability of hemp producers to operate in states like Vermont.” The Senator’s letter questions why there has been no progress in the agency’s evaluation of hemp. “Has the DEA reconsidered any aspect of its regulation of hemp in light of these developments?” Sen. Leahy wrote, using his power as the Judiciary Committee chair to address these concerns. But he was not alone, and not simply acting within his own party. A week after Sen. Leahy’s letter was sent to the DEA, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, senator from Kentucky, issued a statement declaring his support of the industrial hemp movement, to allow hemp farming in his home state.
In the near future, Vermont farmers such as Will, John, and Ben may be allowed to grow hemp, and businesses such as Full Sun and Hempfully Green may be able to source hemp locally and create an added economic opportunity for farmers and entrepreneurs. When might this happen? It’s hard to be sure, for watching the political process unfold is like watching grass grow. However, given our country’s divisive political climate, hemp could become a unifying force for nonpartisan politics. As the USDA stated in 1942, hemp could mean victory.
Robb Kidd is an activist based in Montpelier and the organizer for Rural Vermont, a statewide farmers’ advocacy organization.
By Kathryn Flagg
Rural Vermont director Andrea Stander has no doubt about what will happen if the legislature passes a GMO labeling bill that requires food products containing genetically modified organisms to say so on the packaging.
“Yes, there will be a lawsuit,” says Stander, whose organization advocates for Vermont’s family farmers. “But this is a case we can win.”
After two failed attempts in 2011 and 2012, Vermont lawmakers are making a third try at passing a bill requiring food producers to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients. Food manufacturers conservatively estimate that between 60 and 80 percent of processed foods contain at least one ingredient derived from genetically engineered corn, soybeans or other crops. Yet consumers have no way of knowing what products contain “GE” ingredients.
The European Union, Australia and China already require food labels to disclose genetically engineered ingredients, but so far neither the U.S. nor any individual state has succeeded in enacting a GMO labeling law.
Local supporters such as Dave Rogers, policy adviser for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, wants Vermont to become the first. He admits the science isn’t settled on the safety of GMOs. But he says that’s all the more reason to require labeling.
“We’re not saying this stuff is going to kill you,” Rogers says. “In the face of such uncertainty, we have a right to know what we’re buying and make our own choices.”
By all measures, GMO labeling is a wildly popular idea here. A third of the legislature — 50 House members and 11 senators — have signed on as cosponsors of two labeling bills, H.112 and S.89. And a grassroots coalition is staging public forums around the state this week to rally support for what it calls “common-sense labeling.”
And yet the legislation faces significant obstacles. Last year, the House Agriculture Committee passed a GMO labeling bill by a vote of 9-1, but the bill died after a biotech industry lobbyist warned lawmakers that Vermont would almost certainly be sued if it passed the bill.
The biotech industry, purveyors of most genetically modified seeds, is again watching Vermont closely, according to Rep. Carolyn Partridge (D-Windham), chair of the House Agriculture Committee and a cosponsor of H.112. In fact, earlier this month the Biotechnology Industry Organization flew Val Giddings, a senior fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, from Washington, D.C., to Montpelier to testify on the merits of genetically engineered foods, and the folly — from his perspective — of the proposed labeling law.
Dressed in blue jeans and rolled-up shirtsleeves, Giddings told lawmakers on February 15 that genetically engineered foods are actually safer than nonengineered products, and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration have sufficiently studied the safety of GE foods. In fact, an FDA official told state lawmakers on February 19 that the FDA does none of its own testing of GE foods, instead relying on studies submitted by biotech companies themselves, or occasionally independently accredited labs, to evaluate the safety of various products.
But it’s not just out-of-state biotech interests weighing in against the labeling bill. Watching closely is Margaret Laggis, a longtime Vermont lobbyist representing dairy farmers who take offense at the bill in large part because more than 90 percent of the field corn grown in the state — admittedly for animal consumption — comes from genetically modified seed. But dairy producers wouldn’t have to slap disclosure labels on their milk jugs: Under the proposed bill, milk and meat would be exempt from the labeling law.
Some grocers and specialty food producers, meanwhile, worry the labeling law would hurt small businesses and potentially drive up the cost of food for consumers. Cathy Bacon, the owner of Randolph-based Freedom Foods, a company that packages and develops food for other brands, testified before the House Agriculture Committee on February 20.
“It’s not that I don’t support factual labeling,” Bacon told lawmakers, adding that food labeling shouldn’t be done state by state. “This has to be a USDA or FDA issue. For my clients, and certainly the small Vermont companies starting up, if they want to distribute nationally, this is going to pose a lot of cost to them.”
But the bill’s supporters note the FDA and USDA haven’t shown leadership on the issue, forcing the state to take action. Proponents believe Vermonters overwhelmingly back GMO labeling, pointing to an 11-year-old poll by the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies that showed 90 percent of respondents support labeling of genetically engineered foods.
The reasons are many: Some claim religious objections to tinkering with crop DNA, while others believe that GE foods are environmentally destructive, threaten crop diversity and pose health hazards. Numerous studies have looked into the safety of GE foods, but no clear consensus has emerged.
Lawmakers crafting this year’s bills believe they can pass legislation that would stand up to a court challenge. Supporting that claim is a memo prepared by the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic on behalf of Vermont Public Interest Research Group. In it, two law students, supervised by clinic director Laura Murphy, argue Vermont is on safe legal ground mandating GMO labeling.
Lawmakers have reason to proceed cautiously. In 1994, then-governor Howard Dean signed a law requiring labels to indicate whether milk came from cows treated with the growth hormone rBST, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down that law. Murphy says there are several significant differences between the GE bill and the rBST labeling law — enough that she’s confident any Vermont bill would survive constitutional scrutiny.
Murphy explains that the state will need to prove there’s more than just “consumer curiosity” at stake in order to ensure the law is defensible. Vermont was sued after passing a mercury labeling law in 1998, she notes, but won the lawsuit because the state could prove it was motivated by concerns over the health and safety impacts of mercury contained in fluorescent light bulbs, batteries and other products. That’s one reason the House Agriculture Committee is soliciting testimony about health and safety concerns related to GE ingredients.
Assistant Attorney General Bridget Asay, whose boss would have the job of defending a lawsuit, has twice testified before legislators on this year’s bill. The attorney general’s office has not taken a position one way or the other on the bill, but warns that Vermont would be on the hook to pay the biotech industry’s attorneys’ fees if the law is challenged successfully.
Partridge, for one, insists she won’t be bullied by the biotech industry. She’s more worried about her own constituents, she says, who’ve made it clear that they support labeling foods with GMOs.
“I’m not intimidated at all,” Partridge says. “We’re anticipating a lawsuit, and that’s why we’re crafting this bill to be ultimately defensible.”
As for the concern about the bill’s effect on specialty food producers, Partridge says that the landscape has already shifted in the last year. Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Jerry Greenfield recently testified to state lawmakers that Vermont’s finest is making plans to go GE-free by the end of 2013.
The House Agriculture Committee began marking up the labeling bill late last week. If it passes there, it would make stops in the two other House committees — Judiciary and Commerce and Economic Development — before heading for a floor vote. Should the bill miss the mid-session crossover deadline, Partridge says she’ll seek an extension from Senate leaders.
Will this year be any different than last? Supporters hope so. NOFA Vermont’s Rogers says the bill has a lot of momentum coming off last year, when more than 350 Vermonters turned out for a public hearing on the issue. The national push for GMO labeling took a hit last year, when California voters narrowly defeated a measure to require such labeling after the biotech industry spent $47 million fighting Proposition 37; supporters spent $7 million.
But Rogers isn’t discouraged.
“I think the biotech industry and Big Food thought that they could kill all of this around the country by defeating Prop. 37 in California,” he says. “People certainly were discouraged for a little while after that, but all it did was just strengthen the resolve of people around the country … It’s not going to go away, and how those on the other side, particularly the ones with the deep pockets, choose to play their hand, we’ll see.”
Monday, October 15, 2012
By Renee Sharp
Americans are eating their weight and more in genetically engineered food every year, a new Environmental Working Group analysis shows. On average, people eat an estimated 193 pounds of genetically engineered food in a 12-month period. The typical American adult weighs 179 pounds.
These figures raise a question: If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year, wouldn’t you want to make sure it was safe to eat?
Shockingly, virtually no long-term health studies have been done on consumption of genetically engineered food.
And there aren’t likely to be any such studies anytime soon. The government isn’t doing this kind of research and is not requiring it of the food industry. It isn’t even making it possible for independent scientists to do it, since under the law, those who hold patents on genetically engineered food get to decide in most cases what testing can – and cannot – be conducted.
As a result, the jury is still out – in fact, it hasn’t even heard the evidence – on whether genetically engineered food might cause health problems. And the answer to this question will likely remain unclear for years.
So what can consumers do in the meantime? Not much – unless they demand that genetically engineered food be labeled. At least then consumers would know whether the food they buy contains genetically engineered ingredients, and could decide for themselves if this is what they want for themselves and their families.
This basic right-to-know issue is only going to become more important in the future, because consumption of genetically engineered food is expected to grow substantially.
193 pounds of genetically engineered food is an underestimate
To calculate how much genetically engineered food people eat each year, EWG researchers started with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2011 data on per capita consumption of four foods commonly derived from genetically engineered crops: sugar, corn-based sweeteners, salad oil and “corn products.”
We estimated how much of each of these foods were likely to be genetically modified. We compared the consumption figures with the latest USDA data showing that 95 percent of the sugar beets, 93 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered. We also applied federal data showing that 79 percent of the salad oil consumed in the U.S. is soybean oil, and 55 percent of the sugar comes from sugar beets.
From these figures, EWG calculated that the average American annually consumes genetically engineered foods in these quantities: 68 pounds of beet sugar, 58 pounds of corn syrup, 38 pounds of soybean oil and 29 pounds of corn-based products, for a total of 193 pounds.
That’s a lot, but it’s likely to be an underestimate, since it does not account for all the genetically engineered foods that people eat. Other foods that commonly come in genetically engineered versions – but are not included in EWG’s calculations – are canola oil, cottonseed oil, papaya, yellow squash and soy products other than soybean oil. (EWG also excluded genetically engineered animal feed that people may consume indirectly by eating meat raised on genetically engineered crops.)
As more genetically engineered crops are approved and grown commercially, the average amount of genetically engineered food consumed would be expected to spike far above 193 pounds a year. EWG considered only three genetically engineered crops, but more than 30 others are currently being tested in field trials, including apples, barley, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, chili peppers, coffee, cranberries, cucumber, flax, grapefruit, kiwi, lentils, lettuce, melons, mustard, oats, olives, onions, peanuts, pears, peas, persimmons, pineapple,popcorn, radishes, strawberries, sugar cane, sunflower, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, walnuts and watercress.
While it is unclear how long it may take for these new genetically engineered crops to reach the market, this long list makes it likely that people could be eating two or three times their weight in GE food annually within the next decade.
Dear Members and Friends:
With one week to go before the Legislature takes its annual break for Town Meeting Week, momentum is building for H.112, the bill which will require that genetically engineered food sold in Vermont be labeled.
The House Agriculture Committee has once again taken hours of testimony from a wide variety of witnesses and the Committee’s Chair, Rep. Carolyn Partridge, has indicated that the Committee will vote on the bill by the end of this week.
For those of you who have been following this issue, this is almost two months ahead of where we were with last year’s bill. We need to fuel that momentum …
SO NOW IT’S TIME TO TAKE THIS CAMPAIGN TO THE STREETS!
Strong grassroots pressure from voters, talking to their elected representatives about why Vermonters need to have GE food labeled, is what it is going to take to push this bill through the rest of the legislative process.
WE NEED YOUR VOICE NOW!
Please join Rural Vermont, the other members of the VT Right To Know GMOs coalition (NOFA-VT, VPIRG, Cedar Circle Farm) as well as our forum co-sponsors (VT’s local Food Co-ops) and statewide co-sponsor Ben & Jerry’s at a Grassroots Action Forum near you this week. You’ll get all the information and support you need to become part of our statewide grassroots push during Town Meeting Week and beyond.
I look forward to seeing you this week!
For additional brief updates on other issues we are working on at the State House scroll to the bottom of this message. We’ll have more info available at the end of the week!
P.P.S. Save the date! Rural Vermont’s Annual Celebration will be Wednesday, April 10th at 6:30pm at the Vergennes Opera House. Join us and keynote Philip Ackerman-Leist for a great night!
VT RIGHT TO KNOW GMOs
GRASSROOTS ACTION FORUMS
At the forums you’ll get information about the issue of GE labeling, updates on the legislative process, actions you can take, the chance to meet others from your community who care about this issue,
and of course GE-free refreshments!
Sign up for the forum closest to you here:
White River Junction TONIGHT!
February 25, Monday, 6:30-8:30
February 26, Tuesday, 6:30-8:30
February 27, Wednesday, 6:30-8:30
February 28, Thursday, 6:30-8:30
February 28, Thursday, 6:30-8:30
RAW MILK: Rural Vermont has been busy facilitating “Milk Meetings” in different parts of the state to continue gathering information for our annual Raw Milk Report to the Legislature. We expect to submit that report soon after the Town Meeting break.
In the meantime, a bill has been introduced in the Senate to allow sales of raw milk at farmers’ markets and Rural Vermont is working with other interested legislators on drafting a bill that would address broader improvements to the raw milk law.
For the latest information on this campaign, contact Robb or call the office 223-7222.
HEMP: Last week, following testimony by the Attorney General’s office and from the Agency of Agriculture, the Senate Ag Committee began drafting changes to the existing law that authorizes the growing of industrial hemp. The goal of these changes appears to be significant simplification of the law. We hope to have more news on this issue by the end of the week. For the latest information on this campaign, contact Robb or Andrea or call the office 223-7222.
At its heart, Rural Vermont is a grassroots advocacy organization. That means our ability to get things done that you care about is directly tied to the number of members who support our work.
Our credibility and power comes directly from you – the people who share our values and our vision for a community-based food system that enables family farms to be economically viable and offers everyone access to locally-produced foods of their choice.
To make this vision a reality,
we need you.
On Fri. March 1, the VT House Ag Committee passed the GMO Food Labeling bill, H.112, by a strong vote of 8-3. It is expected that after the Town Meeting Week legislative recess, the bill will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Last week’s statewide GMO Labeling Grassroots Action Forums drew hundreds of supporters who are now fanning out to talk to their legislators during the Town Meeting week legislative break. You can visit the VT Right to Know GMOs coalition website for resources and information or contact Andrea at Rural Vermont for the latest updates.
By TRIP GABRIEL
February 12, 2013
FRANKFORT, Ky. — In 1996 the actor Woody Harrelson, who has a sideline as an activist for legalizing marijuana, was arrested in Kentucky for planting four hemp seeds.
Senator Rand Paul supports legalizing the growing of hemp in the United States.
Last month Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, announced his support for growing hemp in Kentucky, his home state.
Between those jarringly disparate events lies the evolution of hemp from a countercultural cause to an issue championed by farmers in the heartland and conservative lawmakers.
On Monday, a panel of the Republican-controlled Kentucky State Senate unanimously approved a bill to license hemp growers. It was promoted by the state agriculture commissioner and three members of the state’s Congressional delegation, including Senator Rand Paul, who removed his jacket to testify in a white shirt that he announced was made of hemp fibers.
If the bill is approved by the full Legislature, Kentucky will join eight other states that have adopted laws to allow commercial hemp growing, although the practice is effectively blocked by federal law that makes no distinction between hemp and marijuana.
Mr. Paul, a Republican, said he would seek a waiver from the Obama administration for Kentucky hemp growers, while pressing Congress to delist hemp as a controlled substance, which hemp supporters say is a legacy of antidrug hysteria.
Both plants are the same species, Cannabis sativa, but hemp has only a trace of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Hemp’s champions see it as a source of agricultural jobs, an alternative for struggling tobacco farmers and a wonder plant with uses from bluejeans to building materials.
Attitudes are changing in surprising places. At a hearing on Monday in Frankfort, the Kentucky capital, the state police commissioner’s opposition to hemp growing was challenged by a former C.I.A. director, R. James Woolsey.
“The specter of people getting high on industrial hemp,” Mr. Woolsey said, “is pretty much exactly like saying you can get drunk on O’Doul’s.”
Hemp supporters say it is only a matter of time before legalization comes as people more fully understand the plant. They also point to states where voters legalized recreational marijuana in November — Colorado and Washington — as inevitably forcing a change in priorities in the Obama administration.
“The demonology of hemp is exposed as being not valid,” said Representative John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky, a sponsor of a bill in the House to allow hemp cultivation. He said the movement to accept hemp has the same inevitability that he attributed to acceptance of same-sex marriage.
Still, the federal government has been unyielding. Farmers in states that allow hemp must seek a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Administration or risk being raided by federal agents and losing their farms.
Dave Monson, a North Dakota wheat farmer and Republican state representative, has held a state hemp license since 2007, when North Dakota legalized cultivation. But he has no plans to plant. “I applied for a D.E.A. license, never got one,” he said.
A spokesman for the drug agency said it did not keep statistics on permits to grow hemp, which it does not distinguish from marijuana under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.
Mr. Monson knows farmers just north of the Canadian border who profitably grow hemp, and he argues that it can be an economic boon. “The more states that do what we have done in North Dakota, if we can keep the pressure on, I think we’re going to see some movement at the federal level,” he said.
Hemp supporters claim a total retail value of products containing hemp at more than $400 million in the United States. But a Congressional Research Service report last year found that imported hemp raw materials was small, only $11.5 million. All hemp used in United States today — such as in Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps sold at Whole Foods — is imported, mostly from China.
Rodney Brewer, the commissioner of the Kentucky State Police, said that if hemp farming were legal, marijuana growers would hide their plants in hemp fields and the police could not tell them apart.
But Mr. Woolsey, who said he favored hemp because of “my interest in prosperity for rural America,” argued that no pot farmer would hide plants in a hemp field for fear that low-potency hemp would cross-pollinate with marijuana and lower the concentration of THC, its psychoactive ingredient.
Marijuana growers “hate the idea of having industrial hemp anywhere near,” he said.
The Kentucky bill faces resistance from some lawmakers, including the speaker of the State House.
Mr. Paul, after calling attention to his hemp shirt at the hearing in Frankfort, seemed to roll his eyes when he said, “You’d think you’re at a D.E.A. hearing.”
“This is a hearing about a crop,” he said. “It’s a crop that’s legal everywhere else in the world except the United States.”
Mr. Paul, elected in 2010 with Tea Party support, promised to introduce a Senate bill as a companion to the pro-hemp bill in the House, which has 28 co-sponsors. He is following in the family footsteps, since the first House bill allowing hemp was introduced several years ago by his father, Ron Paul, a former Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate.
Those positions placed hemp far outside the mainstream in many lawmakers’ minds, just as the image of its products — soaps, sandals and natural foods sold at co-ops — placed it in a counterculture.
But no better sign exists that hemp’s image is changing than its embrace by Mr. McConnell, the minority leader, who said in a statement last month that his mind had been changed “after long discussions” with Rand Paul and the Kentucky agriculture commissioner, James Comer, a Republican.
“The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real,” Mr. McConnell said.