Full list: Agriculture in the News

Burlington Free Press: Greenfield urges mandatory GMO labeling

By CHRISTOPHER DOERING and NICOLE GAUDIANO
May 20, 2015
Full Article

A co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. returned to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to protest the reintroduction of legislation that would block states from requiring labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Jerry Greenfield, who in 1978 started the Vermont ice cream company known for its Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey flavors, said the bill would undermine Vermont law.

Last year, Vermont became the first state to require mandatory labeling of foods containing ingredients made from GMOs, starting in 2016. But the law has been challenged in court by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other groups.

“We should be screaming it from the rooftops what our ingredients are, and the idea that we don’t want to tell people is insane,” Greenfield said during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol.

The congressional bill, introduced in March by Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., would allow companies to voluntarily use a government-backed label to tout their foods as GMO-free if they’ve gone through a certification process overseen by the Agriculture Department. The process would be similar to the popular “USDA organic” labeling used now.

The new label would be seen as a marketing tool that companies could use to promote their goods. The legislation also would ban states from adopting individual state labeling laws, and would override any state laws now in place.

The legislation also would require the Food and Drug Administration to review the safety of products before they enter the marketplace, putting into law a process that is currently voluntary but widely used by food companies.

The agency would require labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients if those ingredients are found to be unsafe or materially different from those produced without biotech ingredients.

Greenfield visited Washington last year to protest Pompeo’s bill. That version did not include the certification option by the USDA.

Greenfield joined Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., on Wednesday to rally support for the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require the FDA to clearly label genetically engineered foods.

Welch said Pompeo’s bill would “take away the right of people to know” and expressed confidence it can be defeated.

“It’s just too much for a legislator to actually pull the lever and say, ‘We’re going to deny the citizens I represent the opportunity to make a choice,'” he said.

As much as 80 percent of packaged foods contain genetically modified ingredients, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The group represents more than 300 food and beverage companies, including Kellogg and H.J. Heinz.

The labeling argument has pitted consumer groups against major food and agribusiness companies. Both sides agree on the need to label genetically engineered foods but have failed to agree on how, or on whether it should be mandatory or voluntary.

The food industry has said mandatory labeling implies GMOs are somehow unsafe. They also argue that a state-by-state labeling framework is confusing and leads to higher costs that get passed on to shoppers.

Supporters of mandatory labeling say most Americans want to know if their food contains GMOs.


Rutland Herald: Protesters rally against GMO producer

By Andy Clark
May 24, 2015
Full Article

Monsanto, an agrochemical company known for its genetically modified organisms, was the target of a “peaceful protest” Saturday in Rutland.

The protest, one of more than 400 March Against Monsanto events held worldwide Saturday to protest the company’s anti-disclosure stand on GMOs in food, included several dozen participants and many curious people from the nearby Vermont Farmers Market.

The protest was intended to draw attention to a controversial fight over GMOs, food quality and market dominance by large food producers.

Demonstrators carried signs critical of Monsanto, and urged passing motorists in downtown Rutland to join the protest.

They also gathered signatures for a petition to present to Vermont’s congressional delegation in opposition to a bill recently reintroduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., that would override state GMO-labeling laws and allow companies to label GMO foods as “natural” or “all natural.”

The organizer of the Rutland assembly, Nahomi Franquiz of Massachusetts, said she had family ties in Rutland. Also supporting the protest was Take Back Our Food Vermont.

“We want to know what’s in our food,” Franquiz said. “We have a right to know.”

The protest was strategically placed: downtown Rutland has one of the largest farmers markets in the state and the “locavore” movement has taken a firm hold in Vermont.

The state Agency of Agriculture says Vermont “leads the nation in direct-to-consumer farm sales, with more farmers markets, community supported agriculture operations, and farm stands per capita than any other state in the nation.”

And Attorney General Bill Sorrell is fighting a federal lawsuit brought by several food production and retail associations to overturn a 2014 Vermont law that requires food sold in the state to identify GMOs used in the production of food products.

The Rutland protest included Alan Decato, a local goat farmer whose cheeses are sold at the Vermont Farmers Market and in the Boston area.

“I agree that we need to move against Monsanto,” Decato said. “But my reasons are a little different. I don’t think that GMOs in and of themselves are a threat. It’s the combination of GMOs and glyphosates that are the problem.”

He said glyphosates are patented dessicants, herbicides and anti-bacterial agents. “I’m a veteran from the time of the Vietnam War and I knew other vets who came back with numerous physical problems due to exposure to another dessicant, Agent Orange.”

Decato added, “I’ve always been interested in biological sciences and I hate seeing injustices inflicted on people. Monsanto is trying to take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge, which is so much worse when that knowledge is hidden from them.”

According to organizers of the campaign and their website, “Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.”

Campaign organizers also charged that political favoritism and corporate subsidies have enabled Monsanto to establish a monopoly over the world’s food supply, using exclusive patent rights over seeds and genetic makeup.

They also said GMO seeds are harmful to the environment, contributing to the collapse of bee colonies worldwide, for example.


Independent Science News: Monsanto’s Worst Dream May be Coming True

by Jonathan Latham, PhD
May 18, 2015
Full Article

The decision of the Chipotle restaurant chain to make its product lines GMO-free is not most people’s idea of a world-historic event. Especially since Chipotle, by US standards, is not a huge operation. A clear sign that the move is significant, however, is that Chipotle’s decision was met with a tidal-wave of establishment media abuse. Chipotle has been called irresponsible, anti-science, irrational, and much more by the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and many others. A business deciding to give consumers what they want was surely never so contentious.

The media lynching of Chipotle has an explanation that is important to the future of GMOs. The cause of it is that there has long been an incipient crack in the solid public front that the food industry has presented on the GMO issue. The crack originates from the fact that while agribusiness sees GMOs as central to their business future, the brand-oriented and customer-sensitive ends of the food supply chain do not.

The brands who sell to the public, such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kraft, etc., are therefore much less committed to GMOs. They have gone along with their use, probably because they wish to maintain good relations with agribusiness, who are their allies and their suppliers. Possibly also they see a potential for novel products in a GMO future.

However, over the last five years, as the reputation of GMOs has come under increasing pressure in the US, the cost to food brands of ignoring the growing consumer demand for GMO-free products has increased. They might not say so in public, but the sellers of top brands have little incentive to take the flack for selling GMOs.

From this perspective, the significance of the Chipotle move becomes clear. If Chipotle can gain market share and prestige, or charge higher prices, from selling non-GMO products and give (especially young) consumers what they want, it puts traditional vendors of fast and processed food products in an invidious position. Kraft and MacDonalds, and their traditional rivals can hardly be left on the sidelines selling outmoded products to a shrinking market. They will not last long.

MacDonald’s already appears to be in trouble, and it too sees the solution as moving to more up-market and healthier products. For these much bigger players, a race to match Chipotle and get GMOs out of their product lines, is a strong possibility. That may not be so easy, in the short term, but for agribusiness titans who have backed GMOs, like Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta; a race to be GMO-free is the ultimate nightmare scenario.

Until Chipotle’s announcement, such considerations were all behind the scenes. But all of a sudden this split has spilled out into the food media. On May 8th, Hain Celestial told The Food Navigator that:

“We sell organic products…gluten-free products and…natural products. [But] where the big, big demand is, is GMO-free.”

Why the pressure to remove GMOs will grow
The other factor in all this turmoil is that the GMO technology wheel has not stopped turning. New GMO products are coming on stream that will likely make crop biotechnology even less popular than it is now. This will further ramp up the pressure on brands and stores to go GMO-free. There are several contributory factors.

The first issue follows from the recent US approvals of GMO crops resistant to the herbicides 2,4-D and Dicamba. These traits are billed as replacements for Roundup-resistant traits whose effectiveness has declined due to the spread of weeds resistant to Roundup (Glyphosate).

The causes of the problem, however, lie in the technology itself. The introduction of Roundup-resistant traits in corn and soybeans led to increasing Roundup use by farmers (Benbrook 2012). Increasing Roundup use led to weed resistance, which led to further Roundup use, as farmers increased applications and dosages. This translated into escalated ecological damage and increasing residue levels in food. Roundup is now found in GMO soybeans intended for food use at levels that even Monsanto used to call “extreme” (Bøhn et al. 2014).

The two new herbicide-resistance traits are set to recapitulate this same story of increasing agrochemical use. But they will also amplify it significantly,

The specifics are worth considering. First, the spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba on the newer herbicide-resistant crops will not eliminate the need for Roundup, whose use will not decline (see Figure).

Predicted herbicide use to 2025 (Mortensen et al 2012)

That is because, unlike Roundup, neither 2,4-D nor Dicamba are broad-spectrum herbicides. They will have to be sprayed together with Roundup, or with each other (or all of them together) to kill all weeds. This vital fact has not been widely appreciated.

Confirmation comes from the companies themselves. Monsanto is stacking (i.e. combining) Dicamba resistance with Roundup resistance in its Xtend crops and Dow is stacking 2,4-D resistance with Roundup resistance in its Enlist range. (Notably, resistance to other herbicides, such as glufosinate, are being stacked in all these GMO crops too.)

The second issue is that the combined spraying of 2,4-D and Dicamba and Roundup, will only temporarily ease the weed resistance issues faced by farmers. In the medium and longer terms, they will compound the problems. That is because new herbicide-resistant weeds will surely evolve. In fact, Dicamba-resistant and 2,4-D-resistant weeds already exist. Their spread, and the evolution of new ones, can be guaranteed (Mortensen et al 2012). This will bring greater profits for herbicide manufacturers, but it will also bring greater PR problems for GMOs and the food industry. GMO soybeans and corn will likely soon have “extreme levels” of at least three different herbicides, all of them with dubious safety records (Schinasi and Leon 2014).

The first time round, Monsanto and Syngenta’s PR snow-jobs successfully obscured this, not just from the general public, but even within agronomy. But it is unlikely they will be able to do so a second time. 2,4-D and Dicamba-resistant GMOs are thus a PR disaster waiting to happen.

A pipeline full of problems: risk and perception
The longer term problem for GMOs is that, despite extravagant claims, their product pipeline is not bulging with promising ideas. Mostly, it is more of the same: herbicide resistance and insect resistance.

The most revolutionary and innovative part of that pipeline is a technology and not a trait. Many products in the GMO pipeline are made using RNA interference technologies that rely on double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). dsRNA is a technology with two problems. One is that products made with it (such as the “Arctic” Apple, the “Innate” Potato, and Monsanto’s “Vistive Gold” Soybeans) are unproven in the field. Like its vanguard, a Brazilian virus-resistant bean, they may never work under actual farming conditions.

But if they do work, there is a clear problem with their safety which is explained in detail here (pdf).

In outline, the problem is this: the long dsRNA molecules needed for RNA interference were rejected long ago as being too hazardous for routine medical use (Anonymous, 1969). The scientific literature even calls them “toxins”, as in this paper title from 1969:

Absher M., and Stinebring W. (1969) Toxic properties of a synthetic double-stranded RNA. Nature 223: 715-717. (not online)

As further evidence of this, long dsRNAs are now used in medicine to cause autoimmune disorders in mice, in order to study these disorders (Okada et al 2005).

The Absher and Stinebring paper comes from a body of research built up many years ago, but its essential findings have been confirmed and extended by more modern research. We now know why dsRNAs cause harm. They trigger destructive anti-viral defence pathways in mammals and other vertebrates and there is a field of specialist research devoted to showing precisely how this damages individual cells, whole tissues, and results in auto-immune disease in mice (Karpala et al. 2005).

The conclusion therefore, is that dsRNAs that are apparently indistinguishable from those produced in, for example, the Arctic apple and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold Soybean, have strong negative effects on vertebrate animals (but not plants). These vertebrate effects are found even at low doses. Consumers are vertebrate animals. They may not appreciate the thought that their healthy fats and forever apples also contain proven toxins. And on a business front, consumer brands will not relish defending dsRNA technology once they understand the reality. They may not wish to find themselves defending the indefensible.

The bottom line is this. Either dsRNAs will sicken or kill people, or, they will give opponents of biotechnology plenty of ammunition. The scientific evidence, as it currently stands, suggests they will do both. dsRNAs, therefore, are a potentially huge liability.

The last pipeline problem stems from the first two. The agbiotech industry has long held out the prospect of “consumer benefits” from GMOs. Consumer benefits (in the case of food) are most likely to be health benefits (improved nutrition, altered fat composition, etc.). The problem is that the demographic of health-conscious consumers no doubt overlaps significantly with the demographic of those most wary of GMOs. Show a consumer a “healthy GMO” and they are likely to show you an oxymoron. The likely health market in the US for customers willing to pay more for a GMO has probably evaporated in the last few years as GMOs have become a hot public issue.

The end-game for GMOs?

The traditional chemical industry approach to such a problem is a familiar repertoire of intimidation and public relations. Fifty years ago, the chemical industry outwitted and outmanoeuvered environmentalists after the death of Rachel Carson (see the books Toxic Sludge is Good for You and Trust Us We’re Experts). But that was before email, open access scientific publication, and the internet. Monsanto and its allies have steadily lost ground in a world of peer-to-peer communication. GMOs have become a liability, despite their best efforts.

The historic situation is this: in any country, public acceptance of GMOs has always been based on lack of awareness of their existence. Once that ignorance evaporates and the scientific and social realities start to be discussed, ignorance cannot be reinstated. From then on the situation moves into a different, and much more difficult phase for the defenders of GMOs.

Nevertheless, in the US, those defenders have not yet given up. Anyone who keeps up with GMOs in the media knows that the public is being subjected to an unrelenting and concerted global blitzkrieg.

Pro-GMO advocates and paid-for journalists, presumably financed by the life-science industry, sometimes fronted by non-profits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are being given acres of prominent space to make their case. Liberal media outlets such as the New York Times, the National Geographic, The New Yorker, Grist magazine, the Observer newspaper, and any others who will have them (which is most) have been deployed to spread its memes. Cornell University has meanwhile received a $5.6 million grant by the Gates Foundation to “depolarize” negative GMO publicity.

But so far there is little sign that the growth of anti-GMO sentiment in Monsanto’s home (US) market can be halted. The decision by Chipotle is certainly not an indication of faith that it can.

For Monsanto and GMOs the situation suddenly looks ominous. Chipotle may well represent the beginnings of a market swing of historic proportions. GMOs may be relegated to cattle-feed status, or even oblivion, in the USA. And if GMOs fail in the US, they are likely to fail elsewhere.

GMO roll-outs in other countries have relied on three things: the deep pockets of agribusinesses based in the United States, their political connections, and the notion that GMOs represent “progress”. If those three disappear in the United States, the power to force open foreign markets will disappear too. The GMO era might suddenly be over.

Endnote: The report by Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson on RNA interference and dsRNAs in GMO crops is downloadable from here. Accompanying Tables are here.


VT Digger: Slow growing: Hemp cultivation stymied by federal rules

CB Hall Apr. 5 2015
Full Article

A number of Vermont farmers would like to grow hemp, which has uses ranging from cosmetics to biofuel. There’s a catch, however: The federal government could arrest them for growing the plant because it is a variety of the marijuana plant.

The Vermont Legislature endorsed the production of industrial hemp in 2013 when it passed Act 84. The law cites the low-THC strain of Cannabis sativa, or hemp, as useful in producing “high-strength fiber, textiles, clothing, biofuel, paper products, protein-rich foods, biodegradable plastics, resins, nontoxic medicinal and cosmetic products, construction materials, rope, value-added crafts, livestock feed and bedding, stream buffering, erosion control, water and soil purification and weed control.”

It’s a question of opportunity for farmers like Ken Manfredi and his partner, Robin Alberti, who grew a quarter-acre of hemp last year on leased land in the town of Chittenden.

“Hemp has great potential for economic revival here in Vermont,” Manfredi said.

And it’s hardly a new idea – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were farmers, grew hemp because of its utility.

Marijuana and industrial hemp are two varieties of the same species, Cannabis sativa. By definition, however, industrial hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant, and cannot produce a high unless consumed in large quantities.

Act 84 legalized the growing of industrial hemp in Vermont, with the caveat that producers register with the state and be notified that cultivation of the plant remains a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. In 2014, however, President Barack Obama signed a farm bill under which higher education institutions and state agriculture agencies could grow industrial cannabis “for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program” notwithstanding the act, which treats all cultivars of the species as illegal.

The 357 pages of the farm bill made no mention of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which enforces the Controlled Substances Act. Federal narcotics officials have, however, long required that anyone importing cannabis seeds obtain a permit; and importing seeds from places where hemp cultivation is fully legal is the recourse for research institutions, since there are no U.S. suppliers of certified hemp seed – that is, seed certified to have the characteristics sought, such as high oil or fiber content.

University of Vermont field crops expert Heather Darby said that some of her faculty colleagues have taken an interest in working with hemp.

“Initial research, if we receive proper permits, will focus on basic production and agronomy,” she said in an email. She noted that companies as diverse as cosmetics manufacturer Nivea and automaker Ford “have been in contact with us here in Vermont, looking for opportunities.” The latter, she elaborated, “would use the fiber in a number of interior parts of the vehicle — dashboards would be one.”

But having to start with seeds that the DEA treats as marijuana puts the university in what she termed “an interesting situation. Do you move forward with research and put yourself at risk of prosecution?”

“The DOJ and the DEA aren’t part of the farm bill – they don’t follow the same rules,” she said, referring to the Department of Justice, which includes the DEA. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Government Catch-22

The Controlled Substances Act “creates a closed system,” DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno said. To track materials in that system, it requires registration of the substances’ handlers.

In theory at least, the act tasks the DEA “with tracking the flow of all controlled substances in the United States. Collectively, that would include all the seeds,” Carreno elaborated in a follow-up email. Monitoring every cannabis seed once it enters the country may seem as hopeless a task as following a BB pellet as it rolls around in a boxcar, and as legalization of cannabis gains momentum across the country, but the DEA is not abandoning what it perceives as its duty.

In the tug of war over cannabis, the agency has yielded some ground. In May 2014, three months after the farm bill’s enactment, the state of Kentucky imported 130 kilograms of hemp seeds from Italy, only to have the DEA seize the shipment on its way to several Kentucky universities and farmers contracted for a pilot growing program overseen by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Two lawsuits ensued. The DEA backed off and allowed the program to proceed.

“At this point, we don’t see importation as being a limiting factor on the program, because we have a process that is satisfactory to both DEA and the [Kentucky] Department of Agriculture,” said the department’s industrial hemp program coordinator, Adam Watson.

Vermont’s industry

Some Vermonters are eager to test industrial hemp’s potential here. Last year, 17 parties registered to grow the crop. Tim Schmalz, who manages the registry at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said the registrants expected to grow 190.41 acres all told, but only about an acre was actually planted. The shortfall, he said, was because of difficulties in getting seed and the tendency of would-be farmers not to realize the amount of work involved.

As of March, only five parties have registered with the state to grow the crop this year. They include Joel Bedard of Huntington, who said he hoped to get through the DEA red tape and import as much as 3,000 pounds of seed, which would yield up to 100 acres to be cultivated by farmers contracting with him as a broker. He sees hemp as a jack-of-all-trades crop and identified two Vermont breweries that might make hemp beer. The crop’s uses, he said, include remediation of polluted waterways, since very dense plantings filter runoff, preventing it from entering the water.

Hemp is also “capable of fixing heavy metals [and even] radioactive isotopes,” he said. “It was utilized at Chernobyl.”

Some cultivars’ seeds, he said, contain up to 30 percent oil, a percentage he termed “off the charts. And the hearts are more nutritious than flax seed. And it’s gluten-free.”

For processing, his crops would go to Full Sun Company in Middlebury.

Netaka White, a co-founder of Full Sun, grew a garden plot of industrial hemp using low-THC seed ordered online from Europe last year – enough to yield a pound of seeds. This year, he intends to plant that seed, which he hopes will produce 60 pounds. In 2016, a 60 pound planting could yield a two-ton seed crop, enough by his calculation to plant 260 acres in 2017. That season’s yield would be enough to begin commercial processing for feed meal as well as food oil, which UVM’s Darby characterized as “the low hanging fruit” for Vermont’s nascent hemp industry, since processing facilities such as Full Sun already exist.

Too small to bust?

White did not obtain a DEA permit to import his seed. The DEA hasn’t come after him, he said, because “I really have to believe that the DEA doesn’t have a lot of interest in pursuing small endeavors.” An August 2013 policy memorandum issued to U.S. attorneys by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, outlined eight priority areas for enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. Cultivation of industrial hemp was not one of them.

For their 2014 crop, Manfredi and Alberti, who like White have signed on to the state registry, ordered food-grade hemp seeds from abroad, since hemp as food can be imported legally, although the growing characteristics of the noncertified seed are unknown. They viewed the effort as experimental.

But, even with their quarter-acre – a thousand plants — “we still had the biggest legal plot in the Northeast,” Manfredi said.

Manfredi and Alberti are using the yield from those plants solely for seed.

She and Manfredi would like ultimately to concentrate on growing a high-oil variety for pressing. They are not growing the seed on their own land, however, and that could put the farmers hosting the crop at risk of an uninvited visit from the DEA.

“The Farm Bill does not exempt farmers in general from federal law that prohibits the growing of hemp,” the DEA’s Carreno said. Such farmers “could be at risk of DEA action. That said, in allocating its enforcement resources, DEA applies the guidance” in the Cole memo.

All of which answers the crucial question of possible busts with a definite maybe. In an interview, Schmalz expressed the uncertainty hovering over growers: “DEA reserves authority to come in and intervene if they feel someone is growing cannabis that might be more than 0.3% THC.”

Against that backdrop, Manfredi, Alberti, Bedard and White are supporting legislation in Congress that would remove barriers to the commercial production of industrial hemp by simply excluding low-THC cannabis from the federal definition of marijuana.

Sponsors include majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the Senate and Peter Welch, D-Vt., in the House. In a noncommittal statement, the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he looked forward to “consideration of the bill on its merits” in the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, of which he is the ranking member. Jeff Frank, a spokesman for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said only that Sanders had sponsored similar legislation in the past.

With Kentucky — and cannabis-friendly Colorado — already making strides in hemp production, Vermont’s challenge may be to leverage its advantages before hemp’s potential finds a home in other states.

“If farmers are growing hemp for human consumption, for example, or the production of cosmetics, the Vermont label has a certain value,” Schmalz noted, alluding to the marketing factors that give “pure Vermont maple syrup” an aura that “pure Wisconsin maple syrup” hasn’t matched.

“We’re breaking new ground, and there are going to be some hiccups, but once they’re ironed out, hemp is … a good addition to the crops that Vermont farmers can grow,” Schmalz said.

“I imagine it is just a matter of time,” UVM’s Darby said, “before all this [legal wrangling] seems ridiculous and people look back and wonder how this happened.”


VT Digger: Senate OKs water quality bill that includes surcharge on property transfer tax

John Herrick May. 11 2015
Full Article

The Vermont Senate gave preliminary approval to an $8 million water quality bill on a voice vote Monday.

The money would be raised through a 0.2 percent surcharge on the property transfer tax, the same funding mechanism that was approved by the House. The property transfer tax is paid by real estate purchasers at closing.

The Senate’s version sunsets the tax in 2018 with the expectation that it would be replaced with a more equitable tax policy in which polluters pay more to clean up the state’s waterways.

The bill, H.35, aims to slow pollution into the state’s waterways, including Lake Champlain. It creates new permits to reduce runoff from developed areas and sets a timeline for the creation of pollution control measures on farms, among other measures.

The debate on the Senate floor Monday was more about about funding than policy. Three Senate committees have passed some form of a per parcel fee in which landowners pay a surcharge on their property tax bill.

But when Gov. Peter Shumlin, who originally proposed a tax on commercial and industrial properties in the Lake Champlain watershed, described the per parcel fee as a “property tax fee” last week, the Senate got cold feet.

Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor, said that could have stalled the bill.

“The only thing that tripped people up was the financing. The governor has been calling it a property tax repeatedly, and that kind of poisoned the well,” Campbell said. “The most important thing for me was to get the bill through.”

Others say it’s not fair that future property buyers, including young people seeking to establish roots in the state, be asked to pay for water pollution problems that were caused by past development and farming practices.

“We have legacy costs and we’re making the future pay for it instead of all of us,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, was also concerned about tax fairness. One variation of the fee would have charged a constituent who lives in a trailer and another who lives in a mansion the same amount.

“That doesn’t seem fair to me,” he said. “That’s not what I call a progressive tax.”

The per parcel fee would have set the stage for a more complicated tax policy in the future in which polluters pay more. Both the Senate and the House version included a study on how to collect a tiered tax based on the amount of pollution a property generates.

David Mears, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said the state should be looking at ways to tax based on pollution.

“It should be fair and tied to the source of the pollution. The so-called ‘polluter pays’ concept is an important one,” Mears said.

Despite the arguments over fairness, even supporters of the per parcel fee agreed to the property transfer tax because they wanted to see the bill move forward.

“It’s a balance that’s workable, and we know we have more work to do in the years to come,” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, whose committee supported a per parcel fee. “I think it’s important to be able to move the bill forward.”

“If we can’t pass any ‘all-in’ measure today after four months of talking water quality as the top policy question, do you think we’re going to do it in three years?” Zuckerman said. “This is the time to do it when the whole state says we are ‘all in.’”

In 2008, the Conservation Law Foundation sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to implement the Clean Water Act when it approved the state’s water quality plan for Lake Champlain. Now the EPA is seeking a commitment from the state that it can fund its new plan or the EPA will issue what are expected to be more costly regulations on stormwater and wastewater. A decision is expected early summer.

The EPA modeled the state’s plan last year and found that it did not achieve the phosphorus reductions necessary to comply with state standards. The state is still working with the EPA and the agency has not indicated whether it will approve the state’s plan, according to Mears.

“There is no guarantee. They are in charge of running the models. They may ask us to do more,” he said. “But all the signals from EPA are very positive.”


Food-Navigator USA: GMA et al file appeal vs Vermont GMO ruling, but they are running out of time, say attorneys

By Elaine Watson+
07-May-2015
Full Article

As widely predicted, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is appealing a federal court ruling denying its bid to halt implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120) until a lawsuit over the Act is resolved.


Food Safety News: Judge: Vermont’s GMO-Labeling Law and Industry Lawsuit Can Both Proceed

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss decided Monday to let Vermont go ahead with its plans to become the first state to require labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients on July 1, 2016, and to let the Grocery Manufacturers of America-led litigation to stop it from happening proceed.

Both sides were left going through the trial judge’s 84-page decision to see where she agrees and disagrees with both sides. Reiss, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2009 by President Barack Obama, has definitely left both sides with plenty to chew on.

Although the state wanted the lawsuit dismissed, Attorney General William Sorrell told local media there is much in the judge’s decision that goes the state’s way for the “heart and soul” of the labeling law. But the Vermont AG acknowledged it may be a reach for the state in other areas, including its desire to ban food companies using genetically modified ingredients from using the word “natural.”

Like Sorrell, the grocery industry is going through the decision looking for where its case was helped or hurt.

“While we are pleased that the District Court found us likely to succeed on several of our claims, we are nevertheless  disappointed by the court’s ultimate decision to deny our Motion for Preliminary Injunction to block the implementation of the Vermont GMO labeling law — Act 120 — on grounds that the manufacturers had not yet shown a sufficient degree of harm. We are reviewing this decision and considering our legal options,” GMA said in a post-decision statement.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) applauded the court’s decision, suggesting that it has positive implications for other states looking to pass GMO-labeling legislation.

“This landmark ruling not only paves the way for Vermont’s GMO labeling law to take effect on schedule, July 1, 2016, but more importantly it signals that the courts agree that states have a constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director.

“This ruling also bodes well for GMO labeling bills that are moving through other state legislatures, including Maine, where a public hearing on Maine’s LD 991 is scheduled for April 30,” Cummins added.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed Act 120 into a law a year ago, and rules to implement it next year were released earlier this month.


Seven Days: Court Will Not Issue Injunction to Block GMO Law


Apr 27, 2015

Full Article

Vermont won a partial victory Monday in defending a new law that would require labeling of genetically modified foods.

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss denied the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked the law’s enforcement. It is slated to go into effect in July 2016.

Her ruling also dismissed parts of the case challenging the law, but allows other portions to proceed — setting it on course for a trial.

“Today was a big step in moving this case forward,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell. “There’s much to be happy about for those who think our foods containing genetic engineering should be labeled.”

Key to the state’s case, Sorrell said, was Reiss’ finding that food labeling is within the state’s interests. “The safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices are all quintessential governmental interests,” she wrote, as is the intention to “promote informed consumer decision-making.”

Roger Lowe, executive vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement. “While we are pleased that the District Court found us likely to succeed on several of our claims, we are nevertheless disappointed by the court’s ultimate decision to deny our motion for preliminary injunction … on grounds that the manufacturers had not yet shown a sufficient degree of harm,” he said. “We are reviewing this decision and considering our legal options.” Lowe warned the law would “set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will be costly and confusing for consumers.”

Legislators passed the food-labeling law last year, setting the stage for Vermont to become the first state to require foods made with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food giants quickly filed suit in federal court.

Jared Carter, who filed a brief supporting the state through Vermont Law School’s Community Law Center, called the decision “overall very positive. Our biggest fear was she would grant the preliminary injunction.”

Reiss did not take the state’s side on all issues. The law seeks to prohibit the use of the word “natural” on products that contain genetically modified ingredients, but, Reiss said, the state never defined natural. Her ruling says, “The state thus faces an uphill battle in arguing that a GE manufacturer’s use of ‘natural’ terminology is actually or inherently misleading because the alleged deception cannot be measured against a statutory, or even a regulatory, definition of the restricted terms.”


IVN: Federal Prohibition Prevents Billion-Dollar Industry from Helping Economy

By Katherine Bullington
4/21/15
Full Article

Farmers can yield, at most, $1,000 per acre from corn. Moonrise Extracts, an industrial hemp operation in Colorado, expects to reap tens of thousands per acre, from what started as a few dozen feral hemp plants.

Moonrise Extracts was lucky to obtain local hemp seeds to start their plants. Seed procurement and local adaptation from foreign seeds are a big hurdle for the industrial hemp market. The dozens of plants harvested in the summer of 2014 became 12,500 square feet of greenhouse production and 15-20 varieties of native seeds for development.

Moonrise Extract’s high crop value is thanks to the cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), found in the cannabis plant. CBD is used for cancer, HIV, anorexia treatments, controlling seizures, and pain relief. It works by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, nervous system, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells.

Consumers can buy a month’s supply of CBD from Moonrise Extracts for about $100.

Zev Paiss, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Hemp Association, says Colorado hemp production is well suited for the extraction of CBDs for nutraceuticals, which are concentrated in the flowers of hemp plants. The soil conditions, higher elevation, abundant sunshine, and smaller amount of annual rainfall, however, may limit hemp fiber production.

Paiss said that experimentation is underway to determine the best cultivars for Colorado, but hemp in the state may be best used for seed, flower, and oil production.

Industrial hemp grown for cannabinol is different than the medical marijuana that is legal in 23 U.S. states. Both crops contain dozens of cannabinoids. The difference is that medical marijuana has high levels of THC, which produces psychoactive effects, along with various therapeutic effects.

In 2015, Moonrise Extracts will plant 293 acres of industrial hemp — mostly for CBD and food production — on organic soil. The company’s seed is considered organic because of its wild origins.

Non-organic CBD oils, Trojan says, can be contaminated with heavy metals, potentially complicating health issues. He expects their crop to bring in millions in 2015.

While medical marijuana is legal in 23 states, only 13 states allow industrial hemp production. Of those, only 3 states have planted hemp crops: Kentucky, Colorado, and Vermont.

Some, like Moonrise Extracts and Atalo Holdings, Inc., in Kentucky, have been very successful breaking into the U.S. hemp industry. However, a few key issues are holding the market back.

The most pressing issue is decoupling hemp production from federal DEA regulations.

Federal regulations prohibit seed from crossing state and national borders. Some hemp growers, like those in Vermont, are at risk of federal prosecution, even if states allow hemp production. Hemp seed has been illegal in the U.S. for decades. This, along with the prohibition of seed transportation, makes it difficult to start a crop.

One model, which is being used by farmers in Kentucky, is to import and plant seeds from other countries, with coordinated DEA permits.

Infrastructure is another barrier that will come down slowly. Few have equipment to harvest and process fiber at economies of scale, and procuring new equipment is expensive. Hemp oil is the breakout product for U.S. hemp, because harvesting and extraction can be done with available technology.

Bill Billings and Jim Bramer founded the Colorado Hemp Project and planted 2 acres of hemp in 2014. They hand harvested and processed their hemp into hemp oil products, like soaps and lotions. Billing’s daughter sells the products through her company, Nature’s Root. They also sold their hemp flowers to local beer makers.

Colorado Hemp Project currently has a cooperative of 4 farmers, but Bramer, who is 77, says he is not interested in trying another hemp crop in 2015.

“It will be a hard crop to pursue, until they come up with something,” he said.

He explained that the DEA restrictions are prohibitive, and the industry needs infrastructure for harvesting and processing hemp fibers.

Vermont grew less than an acre of hemp last year, largely because seeds cannot be transported over state lines unless they are crushed or sterilized, thus making them useless for planting. In an interview for IVN, Tim Schmalz of Vermont’s Department of Agriculture said that Vermont would like to add hemp oil to its state brand, but prospects are hard to gauge under federal prohibition.

It is clear that hemp can be a high value crop, but for many farmers, the path to profits remains a bit tangled.


VT Digger: Attorney General adopts GMO labeling rules for Vermont food retailers

John Herrick
Apr. 21 2015
Full Article

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office adopted new regulations last week for labeling food products containing genetically engineered ingredients sold in Vermont after July 1, 2016.

The regulations require manufacturers to place a label anywhere on the package where it can be “easily found” with guidelines on font size and color. Vermont retailers will have to label unpackaged products, including genetically engineered raw agricultural products such as sweet corn and processed foods such as potato salad.

“We are pleased at the amount of public input we received during the rulemaking process – from industry and consumers – and are glad that, with the formal adoption of this rule, we are giving ample time for food manufacturers and retailers to prepare for the law to take effect in just over fourteen months,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell in a statement.

The Attorney General filed the rule with the Secretary of State’s Office on April 17. Manufacturers will not be liable for compliance until Jan. 1, 2017.

As much as 80 percent of the processed food sold in the United States is a product of modern genetic engineering. Typical genetically engineered ingredients include soy, corn, canola oil and cottonseed oil, which are often found in processed foods.

Some retailers say Vermont’s GMO labeling requirement will impact a wider array of foods than originally anticipated.

“It’s a lot more than just Campbell’s,” said Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association.

Campbell Soup Co. is a member of the trade group suing Vermont over the GMO labeling law. The national Grocery Manufacturers Association, and other trade groups, are suing the state over its GMO labeling law, arguing it is unconstitutional. A federal district court judge heard oral arguments in January and a date for a decision has not been scheduled.

Foods that are prepared and intended for immediate consumption, or a taxable meal, are exempt from the labeling requirements.

Internet food sales are also exempt from the labeling requirement under Act 120, the Attorney General determined.

That means online retailers who sell chocolates and specialty foods, for example, are not affected by the law. Harrison said this creates a competitive disadvantage for brick-and-mortar retailers. Next year, he said the association may seek to change the law to include online sales.

Wendy Morgan, chief of the Attorney General Office’s public protection division, said some foods are exempt. Pastries sold at bakeries, for example, do not require a label. These products may fall under the exempt category of “intended for immediate consumption.” Dairy products derived from animals fed genetically engineered food are also exempt.

Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont, a supporter of the labeling law, said the regulated community will have time to adjust, and may decide to remove genetically engineered ingredients from product lines.

“For someone who doesn’t want to put that label on their products there are many, many avenues to go and many opportunities to find non-GMO ingredients,” Stander said.

On July 1, she does not expect the grocery stores to look any different. She said consumer demand for non-GMO products is growing, and some manufacturers are responding.

“I think what we are going to see is a lot like what we’ve seen already; we’ve seen more and more products sprouting non-GMO labels on them,” Stander said.